Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy has taken responsibility for the Good Friday betrayal of the parliamentary pairs agreement and says he would do it again.
Mr Guy on Tuesday revealed he ordered Liberal MPs Bernie Finn and Craig Ondarchie back into Parliament at the 11th hour to successfully vote down the government’s controversial fire services bill, after they begged to be excused on religious grounds.
The pairing agreement meant two Labor MPs – Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford and Small Business Minister Philip Dalidakis – had already abstained from the vote to allow the Liberal MPs to observe Good Friday. The bill was defeated 19-18.
“It was my decision all members should be back. Pairing or no pairing, I had made it clear that I expected all of them to be back,” Mr Guy told reporters on Tuesday.
“It was my decision, not theirs.”
He stood by the decision and said he would do it again.
“The means were absolutely justified and I stand by it and I would do the same tomorrow.”
The legislation would have made the Country Fire Authority a volunteer-only organisation, created a larger new professional service, and included cancer compensation for firefighters.
The government says the laws were needed to break a year-long pay dispute deadlock with the CFA that has seen a minister resign and fire officials leave.
Mr Guy said Labor was taking advantage of Australian Conservatives MP Rachel Carling-Jenkins’ illness to try and ram through the bill on a day Parliament had never sat on before.
He added flouting the trust of the pairing convention was justified because the vote properly reflected the will of the Parliament, given Dr Carling-Jenkins opposed the bill.
“They’ve preyed on the absence of a sick MP in order to get a bill through the Parliament,” he said.
The government says Dr Carling-Jenkins did not request a pair.
Just heard from one of my constituents who called Matthew Guy’s office about the pairing incident. She was told that as @philipdalidakis and I were going on holiday with our families we were going to miss the vote anyway.
This is another lie. #springst
— Jaala Pulford MP (@JaalaPulford) April 3, 2018
On Tuesday Fairfax reported she did not get a pairing deal with the government and said “I can’t help bad timing” about the vote coinciding with her illness.
Mr Guy denied his team had used religion to cheat their way into winning a vote and that pairings should be put in writing in the upper house, like they are in the Legislative Assembly.
The Labor MPs on Tuesday claimed Mr Guy’s office was telling voters Ms Pulford and Mr Dalidakis were leaving for holidays during the vote.
“Just heard from one of my constituents who called Matthew Guy’s office about the pairing incident. She was told that as @PhilipDalidakis and I were going on holiday with our families we were going to miss the vote anyway. This is another lie,” Ms Pulford wrote on Twitter.
A similar lie was told to one of my constituents as well. So let’s repeat for everyone’s sake, at no stage did @JaalaPulford or I request a pair. We’d accepted our families would travel without us & we’d join them later on. And we were ok with that #TruthMatters #springst
— Philip Dalidakis MP (@philipdalidakis) April 3, 2018
They were leaving for holidays on Friday but had made clear they would change their flights to later in the day to stay for the vote, she said.
Mr Dalidakis said “a similar lie was told to one of my constituents as well”.
“Let’s repeat for everyone’s sake, at no stage did @JaalaPulford or I request a pair. We’d accepted our families would travel without us & we’d join them later on. And we were ok with that.”
Federal Labor MP Brendan O’Connor weighed in on the controversy on Tuesday.
“Not sure whether his dishonesty exceeds his stupidity. Close race,” he wrote of Mr Guy on Twitter.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the government was “exploring all our options” to revive the bill.
“What I think we saw on Friday … confirms for all Victorians what many already knew and that is that the Liberal Party and Mr Guy in particular cannot be trusted,” he told reporters.
“He certainly can’t be trusted on what he says in the Victorian Parliament, he showed every Victorian that through his appalling behaviour on Friday.”
The government says it will also now review how pairs are handled for the remainder of Parliament until the November election.
-with AAP and ABC