A key parliamentary convention based on trust has been smashed by two Victorian opposition MPs in order to defeat Labor’s controversial plan to make the Country Fire Authority (CFA) volunteer only.
In a day of breaking conventions, the Andrews Labor government made the state’s Legislative Council sit through Thursday night into Good Friday for the first time in history, so two Liberal Upper House MPs, Bernie Finn and Craig Ondarchie, sought to be excused on religious grounds.
They sought “pairs” for their absence, meaning the government also excused two of its own MPs to even up the vote.
The long-standing convention maintains the voting balance when an MP is absent due to illness or other commitments, but now appears to have been destroyed in Victoria after the Coalition hatched a plan to bring the two MPs back for the vote, defeating the bill 19-18 on Good Friday.
Crossbench MP Fiona Patten said it was “the dirtiest political trick I have ever seen in my 20 years around parliaments”.
— Fiona Patten MP (@FionaPattenMLC) March 30, 2018
The government appeared to be trying to take its own political advantage from the illness of another crossbench MP, Rachel Carling-Jenkins, who planned to vote against the CFA changes, but ended up in hospital this week.
The Opposition accused government of refusing to offer her a pair, with Liberal shadow attorney-general John Pesutto accusing the Premier of trying “to seize the opportunity in the most sordid of ways”, but Daniel Andrews denies Carling-Jenkins asked for a pair.
Pesutto said the Opposition’s “leadership group” made the decision to break the pair and turn up for the vote.
“We are proud of what we’ve done in stopping Daniel Andrews’ efforts to try and destroy the great work that CFA volunteers do,” he said.
Opposition leader Matthew Guy also said he was “proud” of what happened.
Am so proud of my Upper House colleagues and the MPs who stood up for our CFA today and defeated the Andrews Govt plan to smash it up. The Liberal Nationals will always stand up for volunteers against this bully of a Premier.
— Matthew Guy says… (@MatthewGuy_MP) March 30, 2018
While the Coalition’s move delivers the Opposition a short-term victory over the government’s controversial fire services bill, which turns the current Metropolitan Fire Brigade into the statewide Fire Rescue Victoria, with paid employees, while the (CFA) becomes a voluntary organisation, it’s likely to have long-term repercussions when MPs are absent.
Labor’s Upper House leader, Gavin Jennings, said the opposition MPs betrayed parliamentary convention.
Trade Minister Philip Dalidakis labelled the incident “Judasgate”.
Yes. I paired Mr Finn & my colleague @JaalaPulford paired Mr Ondarchie. It felt like the right & decent thing to do as they claimed their faith prevented them working on Good Friday. @CraigOndarchie even started praying in the chamber. We know different now #JudasGate #Springst
— Philip Dalidakis MP (@philipdalidakis) March 31, 2018
Former federal Labor MP Dr Craig Emerson hinted at future problems.
The next time the Victorian Liberals ask for a pair on the basis that one of their MPs is ill, how will Labor be sure they don’t have a miracle recovery and turn up for a decisive vote? https://t.co/wfKjI2qgXf
— Craig Emerson (@DrCraigEmerson) March 31, 2018
In a now deleted Facebook post attempting to explain what happened, Bernie Finn claimed that when he left on Good Friday, he did not plan on coming back, but received a call at 8am on Good Friday asking him to come to the chamber and vote. .
“When I left in the early hours of this morning, I did not anticipate being back this side of Easter,” he posted on Facebook.
“I drove into Parliament, voted, then left,” he wrote.
Finn also wrote “at no time did I ask for a pair”.
— Ryan (@ryansm_) March 30, 2018
Hansard records Finn in the chamber asking for a pair.
Before midnight Finn claimed to be ill working on Good Friday so Labor paired him, to allow him to observe his religious convictions. Instead he hid in the building for nearly 12 hours to reappear at final vote,reneging on the pair & abandoning all convention & decency #springst pic.twitter.com/vRTpzQTPGR
— Jenny Mikakos MP (@JennyMikakos) March 30, 2018
Attorney General Martin Pakula called the incident “totally unprecedented”.
This is totally unprecedented. Two Liberal MP’s asked for(what turned out to be) fake pairs for “religious observance”. They hid in their offices till Labor MP’s who paired them left the building. They then snuck back in for the vote. Never ever happened before. https://t.co/jJTblsgpJD
— Martin Pakula (@MartinPakulaMP) March 30, 2018