30th May 2012 9:18am | By Ruth Fletcher
Tony Abbott today made a dash for the door after independent Craig Thomson joined his former Liberal foes, sitting and voting with them for the very first time.
Having previously described Mr Thomson as a criminal, Opposition Leader Abbott has said how he would never accept Mr Thomson’s vote, so today in extreme discomfort tried to leave the Chamber.
Seated amongst his party, he made for the exit but quickly found he was trapped inside.
The door was bolted for the formal ballot, known as a division, so Abbott was forced to stay put.
A simple procedural matter, the ballot was held on the Government trying to gag debate on an increase to the debt ceiling.
One observer said, "Abbott actually tried to sprint out of the room for the first division.”
"The doors were locked before he got out, he started to walk back but they reopened to let him out.''
A former Labour MP, Mr Thomson says he is “no longer bound” by the Labour party, now voting as an independent.
Unsupportive of press gags on parliament, Mr Thomson voted with the other cross benchers who usually support the side wanting freedom of debate to continue.
But Mr Abbott was cynical about Thomson’s motives, saying that reporters had been told in advance about the stunt, "It was obviously a stunt orchestrated between Craig Thomson, (Leader of the House) Anthony Albanese and the government," he told reporters in Canberra after the vote.
"As soon as it became apparent the government was pulling this stunt Christopher Pyne and I absented ourselves from the chamber."
However, not before Abbott's vote was counted on the first gag motion against shadow treasurer Joe Hockey.
He vowed that in an act of protest, whenever Mr Thomas chose to vote alongside the party, the coalition would absent one of its MPs – an act similar to the Howard government whenever it received support from former Labour senator Mal Colston.
"I call on Julia Gillard to do the same," he said.
Mr Thomson told AAP he did not consult any Labour MPs prior to his vote on the gag motions.
"It is complete rubbish, I didn't call for the suspension of standing orders and I didn't know the government was going to move gag motions,” He said of Abbot’s allegations.
"I was in a meeting of the economics committee when it happened."
Manager of Opposition Business Christopher Pyne, Opposition Whip Warren Entsch and Mr Abbott all stayed out of subsequent votes after seeing how Mr Thomson was voting.
In an investigation by The House Privileges Committee, Mr Thomson is currently under fire after Liberals claimed he had misled parliament in his speech about his spending of union money whilst he acted as head of the Health Service Union.
Liberals also demanded to know why the call for a police investigation of the HSU by a former Industrial Relations Commission chief had been ignored.
Having attempted to depart the room, technically Mr Abbott’s actions invalidated Mr Thomson's vote. Mr Pyne protested by sitting in the Opposition adviser’s box after also discovering he could not leave the chamber, meaning his vote was not counted.
“The coalition has taken the principled stand of refusing to accept his (Mr Thomson's) vote under any circumstances,” Mr Pyne said in a statement.
The official vote recording in the Reps show that while Mr Pyne’s vote was not counted in the first division in which Mr Thomson sided with the Opposition, Mr Abbott’s vote was.
The opposition has pointed out how Mr Thomson’s political stance on gag motions has suddenly switched sides. On 16 previous occasions he has voted to stop Opposition MPs speaking while he was in the Labour party.
Main image: Getty
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