Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has no one to blame but himself for the circumstances that led to the defection of Liberal MP Peter Slipper to the crossbenches, the federal government says.
Government Leader of the House Anthony Albanese said even losing a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives was pretty careless but Mr Abbott had just lost an MP.
Mr Albanese zeroed in on the opposition’s hardball approach to the pairing of MPs in the current parliament, under which Mr Abbott has declined to countenance absence of any Labor MP from any vote in the finely balanced parliament, other than in exceptional circumstances.
Under the Australian constitution, the Speaker doesn’t get a vote, although the convention has been for the Speaker to be paired with an opposition MP to ensure fairness.
The opposition stance left the government a vote down when Labor’s Harry Jenkins was the Speaker.
But with Mr Jenkins’s return to the back bench and Mr Slipper’s ascension to the speakership, the government has effectively picked up two votes.
Mr Albanese said the government this year had sought an arrangement with the opposition whereby whoever was in the chair wouldn’t change the vote on the floor of the House of Representatives.
“Tony Abbott walked away from it,” Mr Albanese told reporters.
“It is Tony Abbott’s responsibility completely that he finds himself in this position.”
Pairing is a longstanding practice whereby one side of politics agrees to absent one of its MPs from a vote in parliament when an MP from the other side is also absent.
Mr Abbott has already been blamed for failing to rein in the Queensland Liberal National Party (LNP), which was considering preselecting former Howard government minister Mal Brough in place of Mr Slipper, leaving the longtime Liberal MP with nothing to lose.
Mr Albanese also rejected suggestions that Mr Jenkins had been offered an inducement such as a diplomatic posting to stand aside.
“Harry Jenkins is a person of integrity. He has chosen the path that he’s now on to participate as the Labor member for Scullin (in Melbourne),” he said.
“There is no deal with Harry Jenkins. It is what it is.”
Mr Albanese said it came as no surprise that Mr Jenkins would want to participate as a Labor MP in a Labor government.
“It is difficult being Speaker in this parliament, in terms of not being able to participate in party rooms. Harry has been a longterm chair of the left caucus,” he said.