18 March 2016
by Matthew Knott

All eyes are on the Senate right now but you're BANNED from seeing exactly what's going on

Photographs of major events in the Senate are banned.

Press gallery photographers are kept on a tight leash when it comes to documenting what happens in the Senate says snapper Andrew Meares.

The government is trying to pass sweeping Senate voting laws it says would make the electoral system fairer and more transparent. It has prompted extraordinary, farcical scenes as the government gagged debate on one of its own bills and the Greens sidestepped a debate on same-sex marriage.

Yet when the time finally comes to vote on the changes, you won't see a photo of this historic moment. Or plenty of others.

Under Parliament House rules, photographs can only be taken if the senator is on their feet and speaking. Photos of senators sitting down - or voting on legislation - are banned. This means embarrassing, amusing and genuinely significant political moments go unrecorded.

The rule was scrapped for the House of Representatives two decades ago yet lingers in the Senate like a bad case of BO.

In the Senate, the revolution can be televised but not photographed.

At the National Press Club on Wednesday, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield - no fan of outdated media restrictions - was asked if he supports removing the ban. Is it not absurd that photographers can snap him eating pork belly at the press club but not voting in the Senate?

"I'm with you brother," Fifield, who is also head of government business in the Senate, replied enthusiastically.

"I want the change because I am sick and tired of members of the House of Reps getting front page pics with historic moments.
"There's just not that opportunity for us."

He's not alone. Many senators confess to feeling unloved and under-appreciated: the Dannii Minogue, if you will, to the House of Representatives' Kylie.

While Question Time in the lower house plays plays to a packed crowd, senators are thrilled if a handful of journalists show up to their "off Broadway" show.

Fifield stressed that, while supportive of change, he is only one voice in the debate. For it to happen the Senate chamber as a whole must get on board.

Words, of course, are cheap. It's action that counts. Senator Fifield and those who support a more transparent, democratic Senate should get their act together and scrap this arcane anomaly.

The risk of precious senators being photographed looking dishevelled or pulling an unflattering face doesn't justify such secrecy.

Come on senators: if you want to be on Broadway, you can't hide from the spotlights.