What is a Filibuster and why did we have one?


UNAAWA Student Parliament in the Legislative Assembly WA Parliament.

Razia Osmani, Reporter

According to the Western Australian Parliament, a filibuster is, “The use of long speeches or other tactics in Parliament to delay deliberately a vote or decision.” It is also sometimes referred to as talking out or talking a bill to death.

By using this tactic Liberal Member of Parliament (MP), Nick Goiran caused a four-month delay on the voting of surrogacy laws. His long speech lasted for almost 24 hours and caused the WA Upper House to delay voting on the Bill. As every Bill needs to be voted on three times by both houses before it can become law, this delayed the passing of the Bill until the WA parliament starts sitting again.

According to the rules of the WA Legislative Council, under the section Time Limits on Speeches, unless otherwise provided, a Member may speak for an unlimited period on bills for second and third reading.

In the Federal Parliament, the House of Representatives has had tighter rules about timing for nearly 100 years: Since 1918, when the leader of Senate Albert Gardiner gave a speech which lasted for almost 13 hours regarding the Commonwealth Electoral Act, which resulted in changing the rules.

In both Federal parliament houses (Lower/House of Reps and Upper/Senate), speeches by members are timed to 20 minutes but there are rare occasions where these rules don’t apply.

Filibusters aren’t limited to just Australia though.

In 2009, New Zealand politicians attempting to to delay the local government reforms proposed thousands of amendments in Maori (the ethnic language) which had to be translated to English in Parliament.

South Korea broke the world record for the lengthiest joint filibuster. Members delivered a 193-hour speech against an anti-terror bill.

Following the discovery of a loophole in the early 1800s, the US Senate turns out to be the most prominent place of filibustering. Since 1917 the filibuster has been used in that parliament 1,300 times.

According to Sarah A. Binder, a Senior Fellow of Governance Studies, filibusters were first created in the US Senate by mistake, “Not because senators in 1806 sought to protect minority rights and extended debate. They got rid of the rule by mistake: Because Aaron Burr told them to.”

US Presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren has said that filibusters should be banned as they have been used to block progressive bills from passing and have caused racism and economic inequality.

Warren said, “For generations, the filibuster was used as a tool to block progress on racial justice, and in recent years, it’s been used by the far right as a tool to block progress on everything.”

Given the history of filibusters, there could be a case made in regards to the recent use of this tactic by Goiran in the WA Parliament, as he is known to have very conservative views. Hence, he wanted to deliberately delay the passage of laws that would allow WA same-sex couples to use surrogates to have children.

Health Minister Roger Cook said, “While there is an undeniable need to update WA’s regulation around these practices, it is imperative that any changes we adopt are workable, serve the best interests of all involved and give precedence to the welfare of individuals born as a result of such practices.” The Minister further explained that the proposed surrogacy law changes would bring WA in line with Federal anti-discrimination laws.