It’s been an ugly few days in Canberra, with Labor and the Greens clawing at each other over the latter’s decision to join with the Coalition and rush senate voting reform through parliament, a change that will stop preference harvesting and endanger the future of micro parties.
Labor and the crossbenchers have been trying everything they can to delay the reforms, throwing other issues – including marriage equality – into the way to slow proceedings, leading to angry skirmishes.
Last night, it was Labor Senator Alex Gallacher’s turn to get in on the ignominy. He decided to read a letter from a constituent into Hansard.
“I too rise to make a contribution in this lively debate. I want to just put on the record some of the feedback that my office has been getting about the electoral reform bill,” he began. “In particular, it is addressed to one Senator Robert Simms. It says: ‘Dear Robert, Stop the feigned bleeding heart crap, you’re not the only gay victim, the Greens have done a greater disservice to democracy and egalitarianism by supporting a revised senate voting system that will virtually ensure that almost 25 per cent of Australians…’”
At this point, the Senator was interrupted.
Simms, the Greens’ spokesperson on LGBTI issues and marriage equality, has spoken passionately in the senate on the difficulties he faced coming out as a young man.
“I have to say, standing in the federal senate talking about coming out wasn’t exactly what I envisaged for my future as a closeted teenager in suburban Adelaide,” he said in his maiden speech.
Needless to say, he was none too impressed by Gallacher’s characterisation. He rose to object, accusing Gallacher of unparliamentary language, drawing support from Nationals’ Senator Bridget McKenzie. The senate’s Deputy President agreed.
“If it may please the Senate and you, I will withdraw… the imputation on Senator Simms’ character or whatever you require,” Gallacher acquiesced. He then read out the rest of the letter as Simms heckled.
“I know you don’t like senate voting reform, Labor, but this is a bit much,” Simms said on his Facebook page. “And for the record, I’m not a ‘gay victim.’”
LGBTI Senators from both sides of the Greens-Labor divide have been weighing in as the marriage equality wedge has been driven home this week.
On Tuesday, Labor’s Penny Wong branded the Greens “spineless” and “incompetent” for shutting down debate on their own marriage equality bill, which had been brought forward by David Leyonhjelm in a last bid effort to delay senate voting reform.
Sen Di Natale just spoke on marriage equality. Now voting for a gag to stop me speaking. No principle, no conviction, no courage.
— Senator Penny Wong (@SenatorWong) March 15, 2016
Today, Greens Senator Janet Rice spoke about her own marriage to transgender partner Penny.
Days earlier, Labor’s Sam Dastyari referred to the Greens as a “cancer” on progressive politics.
As the debate over senate reform comes to a head today, in what is expected to be a long and painful sitting, we can expect more of these charming exchanges.
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