Return of paired pair sees fire bill go pear-shaped

31 Mar 2018 The Saturday Age, Melbourne (General News) by Clay Lucas Benjamin Preiss Labors plan to reorganise Victorias fire services is in tatters after two Liberal MPs who asked to be excused on Good Friday for religous reasons made a miraculous reappearance at the end of a marathon Parliamentary session and voted the bill down. Government MPs and crossbenchers in Parliaments upper house were in uproar after the two Liberal members, who said they needed to leave and had been paired with two Labor MPs, suddenly returned to the chamber on Good Friday morning. Labors upper house leader, Gavin Jennings, said it was disgraceful the pair had broken their promise not to be there. He said there was pleading and praying in the Parliament last night from people who prayed in front of us and begged us to let them go. These MPs had right at the death knell of the vote smugly returned to the Parliament to betray parliamentary convention. The controversy erupted after a marathon sitting of Parliament starting Thursday stretched into Good Friday the first time the upper house had ever sat on that day to vote on the governments fire services restructuring bill. The Coalition strongly opposes the bill. Late on Thursday, Liberal MP Bernie Finn told the house he did not want to work on Good Friday due to his faith. Even when my birthday falls on Good Friday, I do not celebrate it on Good Friday, he said. In a similar vein, and just after the clock had ticked into Good Friday morning, another Liberal MP, Craig Ondarchie, also indicated he did not wish to remain. This is the day that my Lord was crucified. I do not want to be here, Mr Ondarchie said, before accepting a pairing Labor had offered. A pairing is an unofficial agreement in politics where, when an MP is unable to attend a vote, a member from the opposing side of politics will also withdraw, so numbers remain matched. The government offered pairs to the two opposition MPs, with Labor ministers Philip Dalidakis and Jaala Pulford excusing themselves. Just before the vote about 11am on Good Friday, Mr Ondarchie and Mr Finn returned to the chamber. After their return, Labors bill was defeated 19-18. In a post on social media since deleted Mr Finn said he had accepted a pair from the government early on Good Friday morning and went home. At 8am this morning, I received a call requesting my presence in the chamber for one vote, he wrote. I drove into Parliament, voted, then left. He said in doing so, the Opposition had saved the CFA. Mr Jennings said the government had generously offered those pairs because we had members praying in the parliament last night to be with their families and be with their church communities on the most holy day on the Christian calendar. And those people who prayed in front of us and begged us to let them go, returned after we had given them a pair right at the death knell, was when they returned, to betray parliamentary convention. Mr Jennings said the government was now considering all parliamentary avenues to push the firefighting legislation through. Crossbencher Fiona Patten, from the Reason Party, described the Liberal MPs return to the house as ball-tampering of the highest order. She said the conduct had made it difficult for minority parties to work with the Opposition. But shadow attorney-general John Pesutto said the public was unconcerned with pairing arrangements. They cared about community safety and the ability of our fire services to operate well. Mr Pesutto said Labor had set its own precedent this week by denying a pair to Australian Conservatives upper house MP Rachel CarlingJenkins when she had to withdraw from Parliament because of illness. She said very clearly and publicly that she was a no vote. Daniel Andrews tried to exploit her illness to pass this terrible legislation through the parliament, Mr Pesutto said. Ms Carling-Jenkins never asked Labor for a pair, its upper house whip Jaclyn Symes said. Under questioning from reporters, Mr Pesutto said he was not aware if Mr Finn or Mr Ondarchie had attended church yesterday. He said Parliament should not have been sitting at all since Dr Carling-Jenkins was absent and it was Good Friday. Daniel Andrews tried to ram this through because he thought he could exploit an opportunity. Opposition Leader Matthew Guy tweeted that he was proud of his colleagues who stood up for our CFA today and defeated the Andrews government plan to smash it up. Caption Text: Bernie Finn and Craig Ondarchie both asked to be excused from the upper house before returning.Licensed by Copyright Agency. You may only copy or communicate this work with a licence.