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For The First Time In 50 Years The Government Has Lost A Vote In Parliament

"They've been caught out. They've been embarrassed, they've been humiliated, they've been excoriated. And it won't happen again."

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The government's one vote "working majority" in parliament has suffered a major blow after it lost three votes on the floor of the house of representatives, something that hasn't happened in 50 years.

Mick Tsikas / AAPIMAGE

On Thursday afternoons politicians are normally preparing to head home from Canberra, but instead Labor teamed up with the crossbench to try to force a vote on establishing a banking royal commission.

The government moved to adjourn the house for the week at its usual time of 4.30pm, but Labor outmanoeuvred the Coalition to defeat the procedural motion 69 to 67.

Labor then won a second and third vote, but lost the fourth, which would have passed a motion calling on the government to hold a banking royal commission. Earlier in the week the opposition teamed up with the senate crossbench to pass the motion there.

If Labor had won the fourth vote it wouldn't have automatically led to a royal commission - that decision can only be made by the prime minister and governor general.

Speaking during the voting chaos, opposition leader Bill Shorten said this wouldn't be the last time Labor tested the government's one seat majority in the house.

Mick Tsikas / AAPIMAGE

"We will never give up on this royal commission," Shorten said.

"We may succeed tonight or we may not, but I give the government fair notice on behalf of people who want justice."

It's an embarrassing setback for the prime minister, who has always maintained he has a "very solid working majority" in the house of representatives.

It's the first time a majority government has lost a vote on the floor of the house since Menzies led a one-seat majority government in 1962. The 2010 Gillard minority government didn't lose a single vote despite not having a majority in the house.

It was a symbolic victory for Labor, and Anthony Albanese said it proves the Coalition may be in office, but they don't have power.

"The meltdown that happened on the floor yesterday was quite extraordinary," he said.

"This mob couldn't last three days even though they say they have a working majority. What's very clear after last night, for all to see, is that they don't."

So how did the government lose a vote?

Mick Tsikas / AAPIMAGE

There are 150 politicians in the lower house - the government holds a majority of 76 seats to Labor's 69, with a crossbench of five.

Andrew Wilkie, Bob Katter and Nick Xenophon Team's Rebekha Sharkie all voted with Labor.

Independent MP Cathy McGowan missed the final vote by a matter of seconds. She was driving home to Victoria, but turned back and planned to vote with Labor in favour of a banking royal commission. With her support the final vote would have been 73-73.

The prime minister says the government was "caught out" by Labor's surprise tactics and blamed the chaos on three government ministers who missed the vote: immigration minister Peter Dutton, social services minister Christian Porter and justice minister Michael Keenan, who was on a flight home to Melbourne.

Porter arrived for the second vote, but Dutton didn't return to the floor until the fourth, which gave the government the numbers it needed to regain control of the lower house.

Keenan flew back to Canberra after landing in Melbourne, but arrived after the house had finally been adjourned after 7pm.

"This was a stunt by the Labor party who are far more interested in playing parlour games in Canberra than they are about representing the people that they were sent here to represent," Keenan told the ABC's AM program.

"I have no doubt that will be a lesson, there's a lesson for me and others and we won't be having a repeat of that."

Christopher Pyne is in charge of making sure politicians turn up to vote and says it was a "stuff up", but added he didn't give anyone permission to leave early.

Conservative liberal backbencher Andrew Hastie said Labor was playing "silly buggers", but conceded the government need to be "more disciplined".

Fellow Liberal backbencher Trent Zimmermann admitted it's not what the government wanted to happen in the first week of the 45th parliament.

But Tony Abbott said it provided a lesson for the Coalition, especially Malcolm Turnbull.

"All of us are learning lessons all the time, whether you're a journalist, a member of parliament, a whip or even a prime minister," Abbott said.

Turnbull said he's read his colleagues the riot act after they did the wrong thing and left the building before parliament had finished.

Mick Tsikas / AAPIMAGE

"The only reason Labor won those procedural votes last night was because a number of the Coalition members left the building when they should not have left the building," the PM told 3AW on Friday.

"The parliamentary tactic that Labor used is, I would say, best described as an 'oldie but a goodie' and it has been around a long time and people that have been in the parliament a long time, like a number of those who did leave early, should have known that and they should known not to go."

"Two of them were cabinet ministers and one of them was a minister. They're grown ups, they're experienced parliamentarians. They knew that they should not have left and they left early because they thought they'd get away with it," he said.

"They've been caught out. They've been embarrassed, they've been humiliated, they've been excoriated. And it won't happen again."

"I think the free character analysis they will get from their colleagues will be very, um, character building. Put it that way," he said.

Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.

Contact Alice Workman at alice.workman@buzzfeed.com.

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