Senator David Leyonhjelm on his new job: ”It scares the crap out of me” Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Motoring Enthusiast Senator Ricky Muir with his son at the senators’ swearing-in reception. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Victorian senators, including Liberal Scott Ryan, second from the right, during Monday’s swearing-in ceremony. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Senator Richard Colbeck (left) and Senator David Bushby (right) “drag” the new President of the Senate, Liberal Senator Stephen Parry to the chair. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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There is something oddly reassuring in this world of increasingly uncertain long-term employment prospects to watch a throng of happy souls signing up for a guaranteed six years of solid pay cheques and all the trimmings.
It was such a majestic occasion that David Leyonhjelm, the new libertarian Senator for the previously almost unknown Liberal Democratic Party, declared himself ”scared as crap”.
He was speaking before the ritual swearing-in to the aforementioned years of bench-sitting and decision making, senatorial knees-ups and generous entitlements that lie ahead.
Such an occasion requires the presence of the Governor-General and all the other senators, and Senator Leyonhjelm was concerned he’d forget when to stand up and where to stand, having made such dreadful mistakes, apparently, three times during boot-camp rehearsal last week.
He should not have worried.
He was simply an anonymous new face among a line-up of the blessed, six from each state, plenty of them old hands – why, in this world, almost lifers, having been re-elected for yet another six-year term upon years already served – required to shuffle to the end of the dispatch table and swear or affirm to do their best.
The media benches, usually all but deserted in the Senate, where not much is deemed to happen on a normal day, were crammed. The Press, always clamouring for the shock of the new, were not there, however, to witness the line-up of garden-variety Liberal and Labor senators.
They had come for their first in-the-flesh glimpse of an unusual turn of events in Australian democracy – cross benches stacked with former everyday citizens who had risen to senator status on a tide of public disenchantment with the political class.
There was the Palmer United Party’s Glenn Lazarus, a former rugby league player so physically mastodonic and given to such deep public silence he is known as the brick with eyes, his bulk barely contained by his frontbench desk.
There was fellow PUP, Tasmanian Jacqui Lambie, who imagines herself prime minister one day, shining her light upon all around in a jacket of near-blinding yellow.
And Ricky Muir, the Motoring Enthusiast who, having promised he would buy himself a suit, had done just that but had forgotten to shorten the pants legs, giving him a Chaplinesque look.
Perhaps, like Leyonhjelm, they were all scared as crap. Great decisions and the weight of a shared balance of power have been thrust upon them.
But this was simply their ritual entree to life in the Senate, and they were all cast into the shade by the size of the bible brought to the swearing in by Victorian Liberal Senator Scott Ryan. It was, we learned, a family bible dating back to the 1880s, but its Bunyanesque proportions suggested it might have contained the Dead Sea Scrolls themselves, illustrated and possibly annotated. When you are from a major party, of not much interest in the new world of the Senate, you have to really try to gain notice.
The senators’ first task was to vote for a new President. Senator Stephen Parry, a Liberal of Tasmania, who brought impeccable credentials to the job, got 63 votes. He was previously a policeman and a funeral director. The Greens’ candidate, Scott Ludlam, got only 10 votes. He was, before politics, a film-maker, artist and graphic designer, and thus altogether too racy to direct the Senate.
And then it was off for morning tea. The first of many.
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