Labor exploited the Government’s slim majority in the lower house when it used the absence of several coalition MPs late yesterday to win three procedural votes and almost secure a majority for its call for a royal commission into bank misconduct.
“There is no doubt what happened late yesterday afternoon was a stuff-up,” a chastened Leader of the House Christopher Pyne told the Nine Network today.
Those MPs who were not there obviously learned a valuable lesson, he said.
“It’s a salutary lesson for anyone who went home before the house rose yesterday afternoon.”
Pyne, the Member for Sturt, said the missing government MPs, who included at least two ministers initially, had not been given permission to leave early.
One of those ministers, Michael Keenan, was on a flight out of Canberra when Labor tested the Government’s numbers.
“It’s a decision that I shouldn’t have taken and obviously I’m sorry that I did,” he told ABC radio.
The minister was on his way to Melbourne after receiving late-breaking advice about a significant federal police operation, but said despite it being a work-related matter it was no excuse.
Keenan returned to Canberra to speak to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who made it clear it was unacceptable.
“I accept that,” the minister said.
“I’ve never missed a division and I won’t be missing any in future.”
Pyne attempted to play down the seriousness of the lost votes which Labor used to show-up the coalition’s claim it has a working majority in the House of Representatives.
It was the first time in more than 50 years a majority government has lost a vote on the floor of the house.
“People out there in the community are more worried about jobs, more worried about feeding themselves and their children than they are about three adjournment votes,” Pyne said.
Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese described the events as a farce.
“If you can’t run the parliament, you can’t run the country,” he said.
“We were in control during three years of minority government, each and every day of the parliament. This mob with a majority government couldn’t get through three days.”
Former prime minister Tony Abbott said the Government would study the outcome.
“There’s a sense in which all of us are learning lessons all the time – whether you’re a journalist, a member of parliament, a whip or even a prime minister.
“I’m sure there will be lessons that everyone will learn out of this week.”
Cabinet minister Mathias Cormann said the Coalition should expect Labor to pull stunts.
“It’s not for me to point the finger,” he told Sky News. ”We need to be on our guard at all times.”
Cabinet colleague George Brandis said Labor got away with a “gotcha moment” stunt because of the Coalition’s ill-discipline.
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