OCTOBER 21, 2021

The Leader of the House, Peter Dutton, has rejected a united call from the crossbench for their votes to be properly cast in divisions when participating in Parliament remotely.

Mr Dutton has told the Independent Federal Member for Indi, Dr Helen Haines, it would be “impractical” for the Government to include the votes of remote crossbenchers in divisions, despite the Government doing so in the Senate since September 2020.

“The fact that MPs want to exercise their right to vote in Parliament is not ‘impractical’. It is a fundamental tenant of our democracy and Parliament, and it is offensive to the constituents of the electorates represented on the crossbench.” Dr Haines said.

“The entire crossbench, including Craig Kelly, wrote to the Leader of the House over two months ago, calling on him to instate a proper voting system over the six week break. He did not do so.”

“It’s entirely practical. The Senate does it every day.”

The Government currently only has 75 MPs in the House of Representatives. This is the minimum amount needed to hold Government. When all crossbenchers vote with the Opposition, the Speaker has the deciding vote.

“If the Leader of the House had not blocked the two crossbenchers participating in Parliament remotely from casting their votes yesterday, the deciding vote yesterday may well have been with the Speaker,” Dr Haines said.

“We know the Speaker believes there is a prima facie case to be answered to when it comes to Mr Porter. The result could have been very different.”

“The current arrangements mean the true will of the Parliament can not be reflected in a vote. This is not what the people of Australia voted for.”

The rules state that MPs should be physically present in the Chamber for divisions, but it is long-standing practice that MPs from the major parties who are absent can be “paired” to reflect the true margin in votes in the House and the Senate.

Due to COVID restraints restricting MPs from travelling to and from Canberra for sittings, the Government and Opposition have agreed to reduce the number of MPs it allows into the Senate each division so that the final numbers reflect the will of the Senate. The Government refuses to do the same in the House of Representatives. Instead, the Government only records the voting intent of crossbenchers which has no material impact.

“The referral of Mr Porter to the Privileges Committee is just one example of where a vote may have gone a different way if Mr Dutton allowed all crossbenchers to vote.” Dr Haines said.

Labor has said it would support pairing arrangements for the crossbench if agreed to by the Government.

“The crossbench has introduced many bills to Parliament, like my bill for a robust integrity commission and the bill from Zali Steggall to legislate net zero by 2050, that would only need one Government backbencher to cross the floor to pass.”

“Mr Dutton is effectively blocking this opportunity too, and using COVID travel restrictions as an excuse. It is totally unacceptable and an affront to our democracy.”

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