Tony Abbott acted outside a ‘‘gentleman’s agreement’’ by reneging on a pairing agreement with the Prime Minister Julia Gillard who is on leave due to the death of her father, according to the government.
Chief Government Whip, Joel Fitzgibbon, said the incident occurred during a vote on an Opposition amendment to the Government’s offshore processing plans for Nauru.
Ms Gillard was expected to be paired with the Opposition leader but was instead paired with the Liberal backbencher, Judi Moylan, who was expected to abstain from the vote.
Ms Moylan was part of a cross-party breakaway group of MPs who became fed up with the parliamentary deadlock on asylum seekers in June and sought to find a policy answer to the impasses in a series of committee meetings.
By pairing Ms Moylan with Ms Gillard, the Opposition’s asylum seeker policy official voting record will reflect all MPs voting for the amendment.
Pairing arrangements for Mr Abbott and Ms Gillard were arranged by the relevant offices - not the Whip’s as was the case for all other MPs - but ‘‘99.9 per cent of the time’’ when either leader needed a pair, the other would comply and absent themselves from the vote, Mr Fitzgibbon said.
‘‘Well what Tony Abbott did was very, very poor form,’’ Mr Fitzgibbon told ABC radio.
‘‘She’s home grieving with her family and she was entitled to believe that while she was missing a very important vote, so too was her counterpart, the Leader of the Opposition,’’ he said.
Mr Fitzgibbon subsequently told the National Times that ‘‘I acknowledge [Mr Abbott and Ms Gillard’s] right to make the arrangements but I do believe e in this instance [Mr Abbott and the Opposition] operated outside the spirit of the gentleman’s arrangement.
‘‘In my view, this was a breach of faith.’’
A spokesman for the Opposition Leader responded to inquiries saying that the record shows the Prime Minister was paired.