Prime Minister Scott Morrison endured a week of attacks and headaches from both within and outside his party, as the government stumbles to the final parliamentary sitting of the year.
While being hammered by the Opposition on accusations of lying stemming from his infamous 2019 holiday to Hawaii, the PM also faced a growing Coalition revolt over concerns about vaccine mandates.
However, his biggest headache arguably happened on the final sitting day of the week, when the government spectacularly lost two votes on the floor of Parliament over a push to start debate on a long-awaited federal integrity body.
The chaos sets the scene for what is expected to be a tumultuous final parliamentary sitting week of the year.
‘Lioness’ Archer defies Morrison on integrity bill
In surprising scenes in the lower house on Thursday, Liberal MP Bridget Archer twice crossed the floor to back a long-awaited federal integrity bill that the Morrison government opposes.
Ms Archer’s split helped independent MP Helen Haines win majority support for her push to debate a federal anti-corruption commission, in what the Labor and Greens claimed was a sign the government had lost control of the Parliament.
Dr Haines praised Ms Archer as a “lioness” for crossing the floor, but her motion was ultimately unsuccessful, because it did not reach an absolute majority of the 151-seat House.
Dr Haines later blasted the procedural quirk as an “undemocratic technicality”.
Coalition MPs were visibly shocked when Ms Archer stood up to second Haines’ motion and declared she had made the “difficult decision” to vote against party lines.
“This is one of the most important things we come to this place to do … the time has gone on long enough,” the moderate Tasmanian backbencher told Parliament.
During question time, the Opposition declared the government a “complete shambles”.
“The Leader of the Opposition is obsessed by the games that go on in here,” Mr Morrison retorted.
Christensen chaos over civil disobedience claims
Ms Archer wasn’t the only Coalition MP causing havoc, with maverick LNP backbencher George Christensen also crossing the floor to oppose the government.
On Wednesday, he voted with Labor on a litigation funding bill, and had earlier signalled his intent to cause trouble for his own government as he joined a growing conservative backlash against vaccine mandates (more on that shortly).
Mr Christensen doubled down on his stance the next day, referencing the “totalitarian regimes” of Stalin, Mao, Hitler and Pol Pot in criticising state premiers who had imposed vaccine mandates.
Mr Christensen also claimed people who intentionally opted out of vaccination were being “demonised, ostracised and socially eradicated” and that the solution was “civil disobedience”.
Mr Morrison, asked to respond to the comments on Wednesday, said he would “condemn any encouragement whatsoever, by any person in any place, regarding acts of civil disobedience”.
Coalition senators back One Nation
Coalition dissent this week began in the Senate, when five LNP senators crossed the floor to vote in support of a One Nation push for “anti-discrimination” protections for the unvaccinated.
On Monday, Senators Gerard Rennick, Alex Antic, Matt Canavan, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and Sam McMahon backed the unpopular One Nation bill, with all other government members opposing it.
The vote came after Senators Rennick and Antic threatened to abstain from voting with the Coalition in protest of state government vaccine mandates.
Mr Morrison downplayed the significance of the revolt at a press conference, telling reporters his party does not “run as an autocracy”.
“I respect the fact that individual members will express a view and vote accordingly for those what happened today. We can deal with any differences that occur from time to time,” he said.
Now with seven Coalition members turning their backs on party lines – the five senators, plus Mr Christensen and Ms Archer – the Morrison government is seemingly resigned to not having the numbers to pass controversial proposals for the rest of the year, hinting legislation on religious discrimination and voter identification may be delayed.
Rebel Rennick strikes again
Coalition Senator Rennick again made headlines after he sought a do-over of a vote to block the government’s inquiry into the ABC, claiming he missed the vote due to alleged “confusion”.
Labor, the Greens and the crossbench seized the numbers in the Senate to force the suspension of the government-backed inquiry into the ABC.
The government lost the vote because Senators Rennick and Antic followed through on their pledge to not back the government in certain votes.
But hours after the vote was passed, Senator Rennick returned to the Senate claiming there had been “confusion around pairing arrangements” and that his vote should be counted after all.
Coalition senators initially lobbied for a redo of the vote, but they later backed down after outrage from Labor and the Greens.
Resigned to the fact they had little grounds on which to base their argument, the Coalition backed down from the fight, deciding to let the original vote stand.
Morrison caught out by Hawaii ‘lie’
In scenes harking back to 2019, Scott Morrison was again forced to explain his controversial holiday to Hawaii during the Black Summer bushfires.
A series of explanations led to Labor claims that Mr Morrison lied about texts to Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese.
On Monday, Mr Morrison told Parliament that he texted Mr Albanese from the plane en route to Hawaii, informing him of “where I was going”.
The statement set off puzzled looks on the Labor benches, as Mr Albanese had previously said that he was not informed of Mr Morrison’s overseas travel.
The Opposition Leader stood up at the end of question time to clarify that he was never told that Mr Morrison was going to Hawaii.
“The PM said that, to quote him, ‘I texted him from the plane when I was going on that leave and told him where I was going’. That is not true.” Mr Albanese said.
Cue howls of outrage from the Labor benches in Parliament.
The accusations of fibbing didn’t stop there, with Labor also calling out Mr Morrison for denying he used the term “Shanghai Sam” in Parliament.
The sledge was used in reference to former Labor senator Sam Dastyari when he was embroiled in a Chinese donations scandal.
“I’m not aware of the claim you are referring to and I won’t take it at face value,” Mr Morrison said, when asked why he claimed he never used the term.
But records show Morrison used the moniker several times on camera and radio, as well as on his social media.
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