Labor to play hardball with pairing and test Turnbull government's working majority

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has declared the Coalition has been returned with a "working majority in the House, the first government to be returned with a majority since 2004". Photo: James Brickwood
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has declared the Coalition has been returned with a "working majority in the House, the first government to be returned with a majority since 2004". Photo: James Brickwood
Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke, pictured with Labor leader Bill Shorten, said that since Mr Turnbull had made that claim  Labor would take him at his word. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke, pictured with Labor leader Bill Shorten, said that since Mr Turnbull had made that claim Labor would take him at his word. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Labor will test the Coalition's claim that it has a "working" majority in the new parliament and has not entered into a formal "pairing" arrangement, which could effectively deny government MPs holidays or even sick leave.

In a move designed to test the stability of the Turnbull government, which holds the slimmest possible majority of 76 seats in the 150-member parliament, Labor has rebuffed initial requests for the government and opposition to enter into a "pairing" arrangement.

The approach - which puts the onus on government whips to decide when MPs can be absent - is similar to the hardline approach then opposition leader Tony Abbott took in the hung parliament between 2010 and 2013 in which he insisted, at least initially, on knocking back Labor requests for pairs except in exceptional circumstances.

A parliamentary "pairing" is an arrangement that allows an MP from each of the government and opposition to pair off and both be absent for votes in the chamber of the House of Representatives - for example, when an MP is sick or travelling - without having an effect on the outcome of a vote.

The arrangement was not in place in the 44th parliament, between 2013 and 2016, because the Coalition had a sizeable majority.

But following Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's declaration the Coalition had been returned with a "working majority in the House, the first government to be returned with a majority since 2004", Labor has decided to test that claim out.

Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke said that since Mr Turnbull had made that claim - and insisted the new parliament was not like the hung parliament under Ms Gillard - Labor would take him at his word.

"If Malcolm Turnbull believes for some reason the government is less stable than he has claimed, he should say so publicly," Mr Burke said.

"Labor is taking Malcolm Turnbull at this word and following the usual conventions [which means no pairing arrangement] for each party granting leave to its own MPs.

"Labor has already granted leave to some of its MPs and we would expect the government will do the same as per the usual convention."

Coalition frontbencher Christopher Pyne quickly responded to the threat, tweeting: "In the 43rd Parliament the Coalition ALWAYS paired ill MPs or MPs facing family emergencies."

This story Labor to play hardball with pairing and test Turnbull government's working majority first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.