Two rural independent crossbench MPs, Cathy McGowan and Bob Katter, blocked debate on a Bill to ban sheep live exports in Federal Parliament today.
The numbers are finely poised in the House of Representatives.
The Coalition Government is down on troops following the defection of Liberal MP to the crossbench, and the loss of former PM Malcolm Turnbull’s seat to Dr Kerryn Phelps
Yesterday, a Greens Bill passed through the Senate and made its way to the House of Representatives.
This morning the Opposition's manager of business Tony Burke brought a motion to debate the Green’s Bill to ban sheep live exports.
Liberal MP Rick Wilson, who represents the southern Western Australian electorate of O’Connor, was suspended for one hour from the House for interjecting while the motion was debated.
So down a crucial vote, the motion went down to the wire.
Labor, the Greens and five of seven crossbenchers voted to debate the Bill. The Coalition, Ms McGowan and and Mr Katter were opposed.
With Mr Wilson absent, the House was evenly split, with 71 votes apiece. That meant debate on the motion rolled on.
Fortunately for live sheep export proponents, it lasted for an hour.
By the time the motion came to a vote for the second time, Mr Wilson had returned to the House and swung the balance back to the Coalition, which was able to block debate of the Bill.
Had the motion passed and the Bill debated, it is likely the live export trade would now be illegal.
Despite Liberal MPs Sarah Henderson and Sussan Ley voting to block the motion, it is understood they would have voted to approve the Bill to ban the industry, had it come before the House.
Liberal’s policy says an MP must resign a ministerial position if they vote against the party on a procedural motion, like the motion to debate the sheep live export Bill.
However, Ms Ley and Ms Henderson were expected to vote in favour of banning the trade, had the motion been passed and the Bill come to a vote.
Live exports are not entirely safe. There’s one more sitting day before parliament rises for the year and more private members bills to ban the trade. It remains to be seen if they’ll be put before the House.