The last Australian filibuster
News-watchers might have heard about US Senator Ted Cruz and his 21-hour long speech to the Senate on September 24. This, known as a ‘filibuster’, is relatively common in the United States and can be used as a delaying tactic to prevent the passage of legislation.
The word ‘filibuster’ comes from the Spanish ‘filibustero’, which itself is derived from a Dutch word ‘vrijbuiter’ meaning pirate or privateer. Appropriate for an act which effectively hijacks a legislature for a period of time. Senator Cruz’s attempt, while not a genuine filibuster in that it will not delay any legislation, made headlines because he read from, among other things, Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss. The rules of the American Senate do not require speakers to stay on-topic.
The last filibuster in the Australian Parliament occurred in 1918 when Senator Albert Gardiner, the Labor leader in the Upper House, spoke for an exhausting 12 hours and 40 minutes from 10pm on 13 November until the following morning. He was speaking on the Commonwealth Electoral Act which introduced preferential voting and he read the entire bill to the chamber as his fellow members dozed or strolled off for a bite to eat. Gardiner did not actually speak continuously for 12 hours, as he was frequently interrupted, but nonetheless his mammoth effort resulted in a new standing order being adopted the following year limiting speech times to 20 minutes (the House of Representatives has always had a time limit for speeches).
Last year, staff member, Gabrielle Edwards, was interviewed on ABC Canberra about our very own anti-filibuster device, the speech timer in the House of Representatives chamber.