A Vote in the Hand is Worth Two in the House

Numbers are being tested in the 45th Parliament.

repschamber_floor

There’s a tension boiling within the corridors of Parliament House. It’s 4:30pm on a Thursday afternoon, at the end of the first sitting week of the 45th Parliament, and there is mischief afoot. Keen to test the wafer-thin majority of the newly elected government, a group of MPs quietly spring a cunning plan into action.

Like something out of a Bond spy thriller or a classic Italian Job heist, the government was led to believe that it’s opponent was pulling up stumps for the day. One Opposition MP was told to walk between both houses dragging his suitcase behind him, to imply he was preparing to journey back to his electorate in the Northern Territory. There are even rumours of an airport spotter at Canberra’s International Airport relaying information about ministerial departures back to the hill. Clearly this was an extensively tactical operation put into action by the opposition to test both the government and it’s leader’s mandate, by making them believe it was just another Thursday evening.

With a slim majority in the House of just 76 seats, every single member of the Coalition government must be present to independently pass motions, bills, or to work through parliamentary business when a division is called.

Realising numbers were reduced in the government ranks, the opposition brought forward a previously failed motion for a royal commission into the banking sector. As a division was called to vote, it became apparent the Coalition, due to the absence of government ministers and other members the government, did not have the numbers in the house to vote it down.

It was then that history was made, with what was believed to have been the first time a majority elected government has lost a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives in more than 50 years. Embarrassing to say the least.

The government proceeded to lose a series of consecutive votes. It was only when a motion to adjourn debate passed, by just one vote, did the embarrassment subside. If not for that respite, it is likely the house would have sat late into the night.

At the heart of this event is the political instability presently on display in Australia. In amongst all the leadership tensions, the scandals of corruption and bribery, and the day-to-day theatrical parliamentary rhetoric, instability exists in the formulation of the 45th parliament. Bipartisanship is the only way anything will be achieved over the next few years.

The days of the last Abbott-Turnbull Government are long gone.  The government can no longer be granted a leave of absence at the end of a sitting week, no matter long or drawn out it may have been. Ministers and Backbenchers can no longer be excused to give lengthy media interviews, and nobody can now simply go home early. And rightly so. The people of Australia deserve members and senators that are honest, and actually present, in the parliament when they are expected to be in order to ensure adequate representation.

The slim majority of this government will be tested every single day in parliament. As Independent Queensland MP Bob Katter put eloquently, “don’t have your mother die because you can’t go to the funeral”.