The reason MPs put a piece of paper on their head in parliament

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If there was ever a moment an MP were wishing they’d had easy access to a top hat, it would have been this week.

Adam Bandt, Kate Chaney, Zali Steggall and Tony Burke all found themselves instead sporting parliament’s strangest fashion trend: a piece of paper as a hat.

So how and why did we end up with our high-paid MPs holding paper over their heads?

Well, it all unfolded as the government was trying to ram through legislation to make it easier to deport non-citizens.

The proposed powers would have forced an asylum seeker who had exhausted all legal avenues to comply with efforts to remove them or face a jail sentence of up to five years.

The minister would also be granted power to pause visa processing from countries that do not accept their citizens being involuntarily returned, such as Iran, Iraq, South Sudan and Russia

So sitting in the chamber on Tuesday afternoon and trying to delay the Bill for as long as possible, the crossbench had to get creative to slow things down.

They wanted to chew up as much time as possible during divisions, or voting on the Bill, with parliamentary procedure.

But to do so, they had to get the Speaker’s attention. And that’s where the paper-as-hat comes into play.

Like most things to do with Australia’s parliament, it’s a tradition taken from the UK.

In order to be heard on the chamber floor, an MP must stand up. But during a division, once everyone has filed in to vote, they have to remain sitting.

So to get the attention of the Speaker, members of the House of Commons would throw on a top hat to give the illusion of standing.

Sadly, it’s 2024 and access to a top hat is pretty limited, so MPs usually just grab whatever is closest. In this case, it was a piece of paper.

And while the crossbenchers efforts’ in the House didn’t work out for them, it was more successful in the Senate, where the Bill was ultimately delayed until at least May.

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