Matthew Guy is under fire after two MPs broke a pairing arrangement to vote against the fire bill. John Pesutto has defended breaking a pairing agreement to vote down the government’s fire bill.
The Victorian opposition is “proud” to have broken parliamentary convention to vote down the government’s Country Fire Authority bill, a move described as “unprecedented” and a dirty “political trick”.
Liberal MPs Bernie Finn and Craig Ondarchie were provided a pairing on Good Friday for religious reasons, but walked back into the Legislative Council at the 11th hour to vote against the legislation.
The pairing agreement meant two Labor MPs – Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford and Small Business Minister Philip Dalidakis – had already abstained from the vote.
The bill was defeated 19-18.
“We are proud of what we’ve done in stopping Daniel Andrews’ efforts to try and destroy the great work that CFA volunteers do,” Shadow Attorney-General John Pesutto told reporters.
He said a “leadership group” had formed the plan.
Attorney-General Martin Pakula accused the MPs of hiding in their offices until Ms Pulford and Mr Dalidakis went, but Mr Finn said he had left the building and did not anticipate he’d be back until after Easter.
“When I left in the early hours of this morning, I did not anticipate being back this side of Easter,” he posted on Facebook.
“At 8am this morning, I received a call requesting my presence in the Chamber for one vote. I drove into Parliament, voted, then left.
“My objection to the sitting was not about me but rather the disrespect it showed Christians and Christianity.”
He did not say if he had actually attended church.
Mr Pakula labelled the move “totally unprecedented”.
“Two Liberal MP’s asked for (what turned out to be) fake pairs for ‘religious observance’. They hid in their offices till Labor MP’s who paired them left the building. They then snuck back in for the vote,” he tweeted.
There was a palpable “smugness” on the faces of key Liberal party members, Labor’s most senior upper house MP Gavin Jennings said.
“Those people who prayed in front of us and begged us to let them go returned after we’d given them a pair,” he told reporters.
“The death knell of this legislation was when they smugly returned to the parliament to betray parliamentary convention.”
Reason MP Fiona Patten, who voted in support of the bill, labelled it “the dirtiest political trick I have ever seen in my 20 years around parliaments”.
Opposition leader Matthew Guy praised the two MPs on social media and later accused Labor of trying to sneak the bill through parliament on Good Friday.
It is the first time state parliament has sat on Good Friday.
Prior to the vote, it appeared that the bill would pass after a marathon debate that started about 7pm on Thursday.
Premier Daniel Andrews had been optimistic earlier on Friday, saying it was a “great day” for Victorians.
The Andrews Labor government wants to make the CFA volunteer-only, merging paid firefighters with the MFB to make a much larger Fire Rescue Victoria.