Floor crossings in the House of Representatives on the morning of 10 February 2022

On 9 February 2022, the House of Representatives resumed debate on the Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill 2021, Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2021 and Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2021. Consideration of the Bills continued beyond midnight, concluding shortly before 5am the following day. Five Liberal Party members voted against the Coalition’s position on the Bills, or ‘crossed the floor’, at one or more points—Katie Allen (Higgins, Vic.), Bridget Archer (Bass, Tas.), Fiona Martin (Reid, NSW), Dave Sharma (Wentworth, NSW) and Trent Zimmerman (North Sydney, NSW).[1]

Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 and Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2021

Mrs Archer voted in favour of an unsuccessful second reading amendment moved by Andrew Wilkie (Clark, Tas.) intended to defeat the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 at the second reading stage, and against the second and third reading motions themselves.

Mrs Archer and Mr Zimmerman voted in favour of an Opposition amendment to a Government amendment intended to ‘ensure that no existing protection against discrimination will be impacted in any way by clause 12’ of the Bill and to ‘provide clarity that a statement of belief, in and of itself, will not constitute discrimination under the Religious Discrimination Bill.’ The proposed Opposition amendment was defeated after the Speaker exercised his casting vote.

Mrs Archer voted in favour of a set of unsuccessful Opposition amendments intended to introduce a provision ‘to protect people from vilification on the grounds of their religious belief or practice’, and another set of unsuccessful Opposition amendments intended to ‘ensure that all religious aged-care service providers are treated the same under the bill so that no provider will be permitted to discriminate against older, vulnerable Australians on the basis of religion’.

The Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2021 was passed without the need for a division.

Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2021

Mrs Archer, Dr Martin and Mr Zimmerman voted in favour of an unsuccessful amendment proposed by Rebekha Sharkie (Mayo, SA) intended to protect students and staff in religious schools from ‘discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status or indeed pregnancy status’.

Dr Allen, Mrs Archer, Dr Martin, Mr Sharma and Mr Zimmerman voted in favour of a successful second amendment proposed by Ms Sharkie, intended to ‘remove the exception that allows religious educational institutions to discriminate in connection with the provision of education or training’. The same five members then voted in favour of the motion that the Bill, as amended, be agreed to. The second and third readings of the Bill were agreed to without a division.

Historical precedents

As the Parliamentary Library publication Crossing the floor in the federal parliament 1950–April 2019 notes, while the major parties’ strong discipline makes floor crossings uncommon, they have nonetheless occurred in all but three of the 27 Parliaments covered by the study. Unlike the Labor Party, neither the Liberal Party nor the Nationals formally bind their members to support party positions. Accordingly, Coalition members have accounted for the vast majority of floor crossings since 1950, including the following examples that are comparable to the largest of the 10 February 2022 floor crossings:

While these precedents are comparable in size, they did not alter the outcome of a vote. By contrast, the recent floor crossings on the Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 resulted in the Government not supporting the Bill in its amended form, leading it not to pursue Senate debate on the entire package of legislation. This is a highly unusual circumstance as it appears that the result of a division on legislation in the House of Representatives has not been changed by floor crossing since at least the beginning of the 19th Parliament, 22 February 1950.

[1] For divisions that relate to proposed amendments not supported by the government, the question being decided is ‘that the amendment be disagreed to’. Members wishing to support these proposed amendments were required to vote ‘no’ to this question. Where a majority opposed this initial question, a further question was put, ‘that the amendment be agreed to’, to which members wishing to support the proposed amendment were required to vote ‘aye’. This procedure was adopted at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic to limit movement of members during divisions.
Tags: Parliament


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