It’s a more intimate feel within the Senate chamber.
Bridget McKenzie sits in the back row, at the end of the Coalition benches.
She rises to her feet to quiz Senator Chris Evans about power generation in the La Trobe Valley and follows with supplementary questions that relate to the impending carbon tax.
It’s the final days of parliament and the Coalition is keen to ramp up pressure on the government about the then looming tax.
Earlier, McKenzie sat in the chamber with an open folder in front of her, writing away in a notebook, barely looking up to take in her surrounds.
Politicians are rostered to sit in the chamber during the day to allow the parliament to function throughout the day.
Chamber duty offers a busy backbencher with a full work load an hour to catch up on work with minimal interruptions.
She paints a stark contrast to the senior Labor and Liberal senators who also occupy the chamber.
The only visual similarity she has with these grey-haired, overweight men are the black jackets they sport.
The tall, athletic McKenzie, who has her long blonde hair tied back, works away tirelessly.
The two gents have relaxed into their seats and sparingly pick up a pen.
Visually, she shares more in common with the six-strong Greens, who are also present in the chamber.
With little warning, the bells sound and the doors to the chamber fly open – prompting McKenzie to look up from her work for the first time in what feels like ages.
The sound of pounding footsteps grows and drowns out the bells that incessantly chime for four minutes.
The sound of footsteps disappears as the senators stride from the floorboard halls onto the carpet-clad red chamber.
Steadily the seats start to fill as senators, two, three at a time enter the chamber.
Senior Labor figures appear at the entrance but soon disappear after it becomes clear their presence is unnecessary.
The bells stop, the doors close and the chamber resumes its business.
Bendigo tourism brochures greet guests as they arrive at McKenzie’s first-floor Senate suite.
Her office has items that represent the vast land she represents – the Victorian flag, a surf lifesaving hat, and paintings of inland and coastal locations.
A small water tank sculpture with sheep sits on top of a shelf. It’s among her favourite items in her office and offers a constant reminder about the impact drought has had on Victorian farmers.
Family photos litter the office.
The aroma of fresh flowers, which sit on the corner of her desk, wafts through the air.
The complete set of the 2012/13 budget papers, an object of scrutiny for the opposition, line a wall next to her desk.
It has been a long week and McKenzie finally has a break in her otherwise packed schedule.
She relaxes into an arm chair and chats about life in the nation’s capital.
She chats about adjusting to the Canberra lifestyle, a lifestyle that’s so dominated by meal meetings that she joined the parliamentary gym.
McKenzie recounts the back-to-back meetings and commitments and the tricks she’s learned to stay focused.
The bells ring and she spins to the clock behind her, soon discovering a green light flashing.
She immediately relaxes at the knowledge that she doesn’t have to rush away. But it would be a brief break, the red light would soon flash and she would again be off to the chamber.
A typical Canberra day for McKenzie starts at 6.30am in the house’s gym.
She emerges an hour later – having monitored morning television while working out – and prepares for the official duties that typically start at 8.30am and continue until almost 11pm.
Senators must remain in the house until the chamber shuts at 10.40pm.
“They are really constant days. That is why your staff are really important,” McKenzie says.
“They manage everything so well and ensure I am thoroughly briefed and right to go so I can do what I am here to do.
“This is a fantastic opportunity (being a senator) provided you do something with it.”
McKenzie laughs as she remembers her first week in the Senate.
She and new senators Larissa Waters (Greens), and Lisa Singh (Labor) were live to air on Triple J when the Senate bells started to ring.
The three women dropped their headphones and immediately set off for the chamber, fearing they would arrive late and miss a vote.
As they charged down the halls to the chamber, a veteran of the Senate quipped: “don’t you love the fear in the new senators’ run.” It’s a line that has stuck with her ever since.
After being a senator for a year she has developed parliamentary confidence and habits to ensure she arrives in time to vote – tricks that only time and incumbency can teach.
She sports her pager at the back of her waistband, guaranteeing she won’t miss an alert.
“You think you know how it works and then you get here,” McKenzie says.
“I now know where the stairs are, where the toilets are, I understand how this place works and I am really looking forward to now putting that to use for regional Victoria.
“I think new senators come in here wanting to do so much, you go to all the breakfasts, lunches and dinner functions and that can be really tiring.
“You learn how to pace yourself and find the issues that matter and how to be efficient with your time.”
McKenzie is an eager first term senator, keen to get to work and make a difference.
She sits on three committees – environment and communications; community affairs; education, employment and workplace. It’s an unenviable workload on top of representing the whole state.
“There has been so much more scope and the committee work has been fantastic,” McKenzie says.
“I have been able to do more than I expected in terms of arousing issues.
“As a backbencher in opposition, it is about influencing the debate and saying these are the issues that are affecting people.”
McKenzie, 42, has just arrived in the nation’s capital and is on the rise.
She has timed her arrival in Canberra with the youngest of her four children a teenager.
This smart, humorous and affable representative is determined to bring about change for regional Victoria.
It will be a matter of watch this space to see what she can achieve.
“For me, the timing with my family was crucial and it has worked,” McKenzie says.
“It has all arrived at the right time.”