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Senate sleepover: "You're not the US Congress"

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The Senate has been accused of acting like the US Congress as Labor and the crossbenchers drag out a marathon debate on new electoral laws.

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Senators have been talking and insulting one another through a long night and early morning as they debate a bill that makes changes to how Australians elect them.

The Senate had been sitting unbroken for more than 24 hours at 10am (AEDT) on Friday with some end in sight as far as the government is concerned.

“These reforms will pass. They will pass today,” cabinet minister Christopher Pyne told reporters as he took aim at Labor and the crossbench.

“They are really just being bloody-minded I suppose in their efforts to filibuster the debate.

“This isn’t the United States Senate or Congress.”

One crossbencher, though, has raised the white flag.

“It’s a done deal. There’s nothing more for me to say,” independent Jacqui Lambie said as she quit proceedings for other duties.

Labor Senator Jacinta Collins accused the Greens of a reverse gag that was testing human endurance.

“This is legislation by attrition,” she said of the minor party’s decision not to allow the government to gag debate on 28 Labor and crossbench amendments.

The Coalition and the Greens used their combined numbers to defeat 17 of the amendments, including delaying the starting date of the changes.

The crossbenchers fear they will be wiped out in a double-dissolution election if the changes apply from July 1, as the government wants.

Opposition senate leader Penny Wong accused the Greens of giving the government the keys for a double-dissolution election.

“Those keys are in the constitution,” Greens leader Richard Di Natale replied.

The long debate has not been without humour.

When Labor told everyone to bring pillows and mattresses, it wasn’t an exaggeration.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon showed up in the chamber dressed in pyjamas, pillow in tow.

He said debate reached “rock bottom” when one opposition senator talked about his colonoscopy.

Labor made several attempts to call it quits for the day and resume debate later but the government ruled parliament would stay put until the bill was dealt with.

“If you still want to be here on Easter Friday, on Good Friday, that’s fine,” Special Minister of State Mathias Cormann said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten defended Labor’s tactics.

“This is not reform. This is how the Liberals design themselves to keep in power,” he said.

MARATHON SENATE DEBATES SINCE 1990

* Howard government changes to native title laws in 1997: 106 hours

* Introduction of the GST in 1998-99: 69 hours.

* Kevin Rudd’s carbon emissions reduction scheme in 2009: 64 hours.

* The Keating government’s Native Title Bill in 1993: 52 hours.

* Howard government’s workplace relations changes in 1996: 48 hours.

* Labor government money bills in 1992: 40 hours.

* Changes to the way senators are elected in 2016: 38 hours and counting.

* Research involving human embryos in 2002: 36 hours.

(Source: Australian Parliament website)

AAP

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