Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is fast losing his grip on power according to sources within his own party who remain embarrassed over the debacle that ended the first week of the 45th Parliament.
The government is still reeling after losing three procedural votes late on Thursday that almost resulted in passing Labor’s push for a banking royal commission.
It was the first time in five decades that a majority government has lost control of the House of Representatives, and it occurred because Liberal MPs, including three ministers, decided to leave early.
“They have embarrassed themselves, they have embarrassed the government,” Mr Turnbull said.
The PM spent much of Friday blaming Labor for “pulling a stunt” and “excoriating” the ministers and MPs who left early. But some Coalition MPs are pointing the finger squarely at their leader.
“Is Malcolm in control or not?” asked one conservative MP who asked not to be named.
“It is easy for him to blame everyone else, but he’s the boss and we have a one seat majority. This shouldn’t have happened.”
Another senior right-wing Liberal told The New Daily the incident was further example of Mr Turnbull’s diminishing authority.
“Tony Abbott wouldn’t have allowed this to happen. John Howard wouldn’t have allowed it to happen. And neither of them would be publicly blaming everyone else if it had happened,” the source said.
“And you know what? Labor didn’t allow it to happen when they had minority government under (Julia) Gillard.”
A public scolding
Mr Turnbull “read the riot act” to his backbenchers and ministers Michael Keenan, Peter Dutton and Christian Porter for leaving Parliament early.
But he added that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten had played a “schoolboy trick” in bringing on votes knowing people were leaving the House.
“Bill Shorten said he was going to be a different type of opposition leader, he was going to be constructive, he was going to be substantive…,” the Prime Minister said.
“And what he has done is played essentially schoolboy tricks and stunts in the parliament.
“Yes, a number of our members who should not have left the building, left the building. They did the wrong thing. They know they did the wrong thing.
“I’ve read the Riot Act to them. Their colleagues will all read the Riot Act to them, they’ll get the Riot Act read to them more often than just about anyone could imagine.”
A near miss
Mr Turnbull stressed that while the episode was embarrassing for the government, the votes were not substantive.
But had Speaker Tony Smith not exercised his casting vote for a continuation of the debate however (after the government had already lost three votes), a royal commission into the banking sector would be a reality.
The continuation allowed enough time for some of the AWOL MPs to get back for a fourth vote, when the government had regained control of the House.
Coalition MPs were seen jumping off of planes and running out of airports in a bid to return to parliament.
Mr Keenan, the Justice Minister, had taken an early flight to Melbourne but boarded another back to the capital. He missed the votes.
He said he took responsibility, be added he was attending late-breaking federal police business.
“There’s a lesson for me and others and we won’t be having a repeat of that,” he said.
Once source told The New Daily that Mr Pyne had “ripped a new one” on chief government whip Nola Marino for allowing MPs to leave early.
Others reported arguments in the corridors over whether they could leave early.
Independent MP Cathy McGowan, who has promised the government support on the floor of the House, was half way back to her regional Victorian electorate of Indi when other crossbenchers rang insisting she return to parliament.
She did turn the car back but didn’t make it in time to save the government.
“That’s a lesson for me,” she said.
“I’ve apologised. It’s only going to happen once.”