Esoteric parliamentary intrigue on CSG Prohibition Bill vote

A bit of esoteric parliamentary intrigue.  It was bit of tricky maneuvering by the government that meant the final vote on the CSG Prohibition Bill was 16 for – 19 against, rather than 17 for – 18 against.

Under the Westminster parliamentary system, the member in the Speaker or President’s Chair during a vote, does not get to participate in the vote.  They only get to cast a tie-breaking vote if a vote of other members is tied.

Another feature of the system is the ‘pairing’ of MPs.  This is an informal arrangement between parties to ensure the balance of numbers stays the same when an MP is sick or outside parliament on official business).

Yesterday, just before the vote on the Coal Seam Gas Prohibition Bill, Christian Democrat MP Paul Green was in the chair presiding over the debate.  The bells were rung for a division (vote) and MPs entered the chamber.

Liberal MP Don Harwin, who is the President of the Legislative Council (Upper House) and usually sits in the chair during votes, came into the chamber to assume the chair, but was quickly waved away by Liberal Whip Peter Phelps (the Whip organises MPs during parliamentary votes).  President Harwin went back to his office as one of the three pairs.

The effect of all this was to skew the vote.  It meant Paul Green, who would have voted with his leader Fred Nile for the bill was denied a vote, while the Liberals gained an extra vote by not having to fill the chair.

While the vote would still have been lost, it would have been a margin of 1 vote, rather than 3 votes.  That’s how close we really came to making history and the Upper House passing a bill to restrict coal seam gas.

Here is how the vote was recorded on NSW Parliament’s Hansard:

Question—That the bill be read a second time—put.

The House divided.

CSG Vote

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