As the Liberal Party became engulfed in its escalating leadership crisis on Thursday, a gleeful Opposition seized the opportunity to pile the pressure on contender Peter Dutton.
Early on, Labor took advantage of the chaos – and the lack of government members in the House of Representatives – to try to have questions over Mr Dutton’s eligibility to sit in parliament referred to the High Court.
Mr Dutton’s eligibility is being challenged under section 44 of the constitution because he and his wife have two childcare centres that receive money from the government. He maintains he has legal advice that he has not breached the constitution; Labor says its advice is that he might have a case to answer.
At a media conference later on Thursday, the Prime Minister said Mr Dutton’s eligibility was being assessed by the solicitor general, with advice to be received on Friday.
After a flurry of action on both sides of the House of Representatives, Labor’s move was lost by just 68 votes to 69.
Motion defeated 68-69. Every cross bencher voted with us. One Govt MP didn’t turn up. Katter away. https://t.co/Y8wX0mKL0a
— Tony Burke (@Tony_Burke) August 23, 2018
Later, immediately after rowdy scenes as the government pushed through by just two votes its motion for an early adjournment of the House, the Senate also voted on another issue for Mr Dutton.
The upper house, which kept sitting after the House was cancelled, voted 34-28 in favour of referring Mr Dutton to a senate inquiry for his decision to use ministerial powers to save two foreign au pairs from deportation.
The issue has been in the spotlight since March, when it was revealed the former home affairs minister granted the women visas on public interest grounds in 2015.
Labor and the Greens voted in favour of the move, as did Cori Bernardi, Tim Storer, David Leyonhjelm, Rex Patrick, Stirling Griff and Derryn Hinch. The Coalition voted against it, along with Pauline Hanson, Peter Gorgiou, Fraser Anning and Brian Burston.
A report on the inquiry is due by September 11.