Modia Minotaur

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Crossing the Floor For Those Who've Come Across the Seas

The asylum seeker bill has been passed in the House of Representatives, 78 votes to 62, with three MPs crossing the floor, one (Bruce Baird) abstaining, and two Independents - Peter Andren and Tony Windsor - voting with the Opposition. While this was not enough to get the bill toppled, the division is unprecedented in the history of the Howard Government and may, to my knowledge, even be unprecedented in Australian parliament. The very interesting Australian Parliamentary Services report `Crossing the floor in the Federal parliament 1950 - August 2004' records the intriguing fact that Philip Ruddock once crossed the floor over a matter of immigration, but says nothing about MPs and Senators who crossed the floor concurrently. Arguably, the most dramatic action was taken by Nationals MP John Forrest, who abstained from voting entirely without warning, and either resigned as Nationals Whip soon afterwards or, according to the 7.30 Report, was sacked from the position. I'm very sorry if it was the former, but far more so if it was the latter.

The real battle for the legislation's future will now begin in the Senate. Family First senator Steve Fielding was playing his cards very, very close to his chest during an interview with ABC 702's Virginia Trioli this morning, saying only that he had met with a number of interested parties. The fact that these included the Indonesian Ambassador does not bode well. Judith Troeth and Marise Payne are also holding their counsel. This is legislation that could - and should - be defeated in the Senate. If this does occur, it will be a significant demonstration that there are limits to where the Prime Minister can take his agenda.

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