Just seven hours after the House of Representatives resumed sitting on Monday, the government lost a vote on the floor of parliament, caught short when two MPs did not make it to the chamber on time.
But the loss was overturned shortly thereafter, when manager of government business Christopher Pyne used the parliament's standing orders to force the vote to be held again.
The motion, moved by Greens MP Adam Bandt, called on the government to take up an offer from New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern to accept 150 of the refugees who were previously held in an offshore detention camp on Manus Island.
In an initial division, the government lost 72-73, with Labor and cross benchers Bandt, Cathy McGowan, Andrew Wilkie and Rebekha Sharkie voting in favour of the motion and the government and Bob Katter voting against.
Pyne invoked standing order 132, which allows for a new division in case of "confusion, error or misadventure", to hold the vote afresh and overturn the government's loss.
The standing order states that if a division has "miscarried through misadventure caused by a member being accidentally absent or some similar incident", an MP may move that the house votes again.
By the time the second vote commenced, the guilty parties had made it to the chamber, and it passed 74-73. Front bencher Steve Ciobo and back bencher Warren Enstch stood up to apologise for not being able to make it to the vote.
Ciobo said he had been "detained", while Entsch characterised his no-show as "misadventure" — he was being interviewed on Sky News. Following the apologies, Katter suggested: "Give them 100 lines, Mr Speaker."
Had the motion passed and not been overturned, it would not have altered Australia's policy on offshore detention. But the embarrassing gaffe undermines the government's claim to a majority in the House while it is down two MPs.
Last week, the government cancelled a scheduled sitting of the House of Representatives, saying it was in order to deal exclusively with marriage equality. But Labor contended at the time it was to avoid the exact scenario which has just played out — losing a vote on the floor and exposing a tenuous grip on government.
The Senate also passed marriage equality earlier than expected last week – by lunchtime on Wednesday — meaning the House of Representatives might have taken up the mantle on Wednesday afternoon and been a day and a half further into the debate.
Facing a list of 102 speakers — 14 down — the marriage debate is likely to drag on for days yet, unless hours are extended or speaking time shortened.
The government's vulnerability on the floor will continue for that entire time, with Barnaby Joyce not due back in parliament until next year despite his decisive victory in New England on Saturday.
The other missing MP, John Alexander, goes up against former NSW premier Kristina Keneally at the ballot boxes in Bennelong on December 16. Polls indicate the vote there will be much closer.
The motion noted the offer from Ardern to resettle 150 refugees and said that New Zealand would begin to process them once the offer was accepted.
"Prime minister Ardern stated, ‘We made the offer because we saw a great need. No matter what label you put on it there is absolute need and there is harm being done," the text of the motion read.
It called on the government to accept the offer and negotiate conditions similar to the deal with the United States struck under the Obama government.
Speaking in favour of the motion, Bandt argued the motion was a practical one "stripped of rhetoric" and that is why it passed the Senate.
"It is a motion that is stripped of messages of condemnation and so on, and it's a motion that steps outside the high-level debate that we will have about what is the best immigration policy for this country, and asks very simply: why can't these men go to New Zealand?" he said.
"I know the minister makes the point publicly when he appears on television and says, 'We're not going to be bullied or blackmailed into bringing people here.' I disagree with that point vehemently, but I reiterate that that is not what we are talking about right now. We are talking about whether or not people will be allowed to go to New Zealand and whether the government will facilitate it."
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at email@example.com.
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