Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison on Thursday moved a motion calling for elements of the former Howard government’s asylum seeker policy to be reinstated.
The motion was defeated by one vote.
But it was later revealed Liberal MPs Judi Moylan and Russell Broadbent, both on the record as opposing the coalition’s policies, were paired in the vote with two absent Labor MPs.
Pairing occurs when members with opposing views agree not to vote – effectively cancelling each other out.
The pairing of the two moderate Liberals with Labor’s Tanya Plibersek, absent due to the recent birth of a child, and David Bradbury, who was attending a finance meeting, removed them from the chamber and eliminated the risk they could side with the government.
Ms Moylan and Mr Broadbent both backed the recent decision by the government to remove children from detention and opposed the processing of asylum seekers on Nauru under the Howard government.
Government house leader Anthony Albanese later said it was clear the opposition was attempting to silence the two moderate MPs.
“It’s interesting that in order to stop their own members crossing the floor, they chose two pairs, Russell Broadbent and Judy Moylan,” he told reporters.
“They are clearly spending more time back-stabbing, backgrounding to (journalists) than worrying about their own job and being good parliamentarians.”
With pairing arrangements decided by the party whip, the two MPs had no choice but to absent from the chamber.
Coalition denies allegations
But Mr Morrison rejected Mr Albanese’s allegation, saying opposition was simply meeting a government request.
“We didn’t seek any pairs today,” he told AAP.
“The government had two members away legitimately from the house. That’s their issue, not ours. They can’t criticise the opposition for meeting their request.
“The government can allege what they like. The point is we didn’t ask for a pair.”
Mr Morrison’s motion called for temporary protection visas to be reintroduced and for the detention centre on Nauru to be recommissioned, as well as authorities to be given the green light to turn around asylum seeker boats where circumstances permitted.
It also called for elements of the Labor’s asylum seeker policy to be examined and for the government to be condemned for its freeze on the processing of Afghan asylum seekers.
The motion was defeated 73-72, with Greens MP Adam Bandt and independents Andrew Wilkie, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor siding with the government and voting against it.
Mr Morrison said Labor’s policies had failed.
“They have no plan to acknowledge or address their failures and they have rejected the coalition’s plans to stop the boats,” Mr Morrison said.