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Pairs go pear-shaped in Victoria

By Terence Mills

The convention of pairs in the Westminster system of government is a hangover from a past age when politics was a pastime for gentlemen and if you had to be away tending your estates, the other side would generously grant you a pair meaning that one of theirs would also absent the parliament so that you effectively cancelled out each other’s vote.

It’s a convention so it’s not binding and depends on the integrity and the goodwill of the parties and seems to work OK in the UK parliament but, as usually seems to be the case, in Australia it’s used more as a tactic than a sensible arrangement to ensure the continuity of parliamentary business.

Not unusually, it was Tony Abbott, that champion of democracy, who as Opposition Leader decided to flaunt this convention in the federal parliament. It was following the 2011 death of prominent artist Margaret Olley, the then Labor Arts Minister Simon Crean and Liberal Malcolm Turnbull were set to pair for each other so that both could attend her funeral. But this was disallowed by Abbott in a particularly petty move, but very much in character, that undoubtedly still rankles Turnbull to this day as he was a personal friend of Olley’s. Perversely, Abbott nominated Senator George Brandis to represent the Opposition at the funeral but that’s another story.

On Good Friday we saw, in the Victorian parliament, an act of blatant treachery that tended to ‘go through to the keeper’ as ball tampering dominated our national focus. Which was the more egregious sin, you be the judge.

What happened was that debate on the Victorian state fire services legislation drifted into Good Friday at which point two Liberal Upper House members requested pairs for religious reasons. MPs Bernie Finn and Craig Ondarchie were duly granted pairs with Labor MP’s Jaala Pulford and Philip Dalidakis.

Ondarchie told the parliament that, and I quote:

“This is the day that my lord was crucified. I do not want to be here. Today I want to be right now with my church family.”

His mate, Bernie Finn – another ardent Christian – told the parliament that:

“I want a pair because this, merely being here, is making me feel ill.”

It seems that Mr Finn was not feeling crook in the ordinary sense but was unhappy to be in parliament on a day which for him was for religious observance.

What happened next is almost Shakespearean with a touch of Machiavelli and you need to position yourself as an observer in the gallery as the drama unfolds.

Picture this if you will.

The four politicians granted pairs have left the parliament. The debate drags on into the early hours: as dawn approaches, a rooster can be heard crowing distantly almost imperceptibly, once, twice, three times. The debate approaches its conclusion and the parliament prepares to vote. The numbers are close but favour the government.

But wait! From behind a screen two furtive, shadowy figures enter the parliamentary forum and position themselves almost unobserved by the audience, on the opposition Liberal benches. They reveal themselves to the audience as no other than our Christian heroes Ondarchie and Finn. There is murmuring in the gallery as observers nudge each other and point; the tension builds. The treachery is all but complete: the vote is taken and the bill is defeated 19-18.

Ondarchie and Finn collect their forty pieces of silver from their leader and retreat from the stage to much booing from the crowd. But, in a final act of triumphant defiance they turn and proclaim that they have been true to their exemplar, the embodiment of their faith: Judas Iscariot.

The curtain falls.

What is it about Liberals?


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  1. Faye Cox

    I really thought that politics both State and Federal could go no lower, but , once again we have Liberals showing us that they really can go even lower in Victoria

  2. Steve Laing

    Whilst we play our democracy according to conventions that favour liars and cheaters it will be ever thus. What will be interesting to observe is whether Labor will now stop pairing in Canberra, as clearly all bets on that particular convention are now off. Labor, of course, have less to worry about, as they will no longer be forced to pair ministers who require to be overseas to do their job properly…

    However I fully expect Labor to do no such thing. Unfortunately they seem destined to follow the rules despite the other side not doing so.

    Finn and Ondarchie, however, have truly shown how shallow their religious beliefs are.

  3. Keith

    Finn and Ondarchie can now be considered to be cheats.

  4. Pierre Wilkinson

    so much for their supposed christian values, honesty and integrity, but then again, they are liberals and it appears as if all morality in government has been subsumed by the “win at all cost” mentality

    so sad<

  5. Leep

    I beginning think being liberal is a dirty word, No! It is a dirty word, their actions are almost laughable, I hope when it comes to the next election the voters will remember that liberals can’t be trusted and vote accordingly.

  6. wam

    is that not lying to the parliament???
    The speaker should cite them as misleading parliament??

    ‘The special rights or privileges necessary to ensure the smooth working of
    Parliament include the power to punish interference or obstruction. Such
    interference constitutes contempt of Parliament. Erskine May’s Treatise
    on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament
    summarises contempt in this way:
    Generally speaking, any act or omission which obstructs or impedes either
    House of Parliament in the performance of its functions, or which obstructs or
    impedes any Member or officer of such House in the discharge of his duty, or
    which has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results, may be
    treated as a contempt even though there is no precedent of the offence.’

    whatever labor should stand above such behaviour/

  7. Matters Not

    Conventions (by definition) are non-binding – thus never about right and wrong. Instead, good and bad become the benchmarks. And what’s good for the goose becomes good for the gander – sooner or later.

    A good Guy would know that in advance.

  8. king1394

    This disgusting and immoral use of the convention by Finn and Ondarchie was a game that the ALP could not win. Just imagine if the Labor side had refused the pairs, what a turmoil that would have caused, perhaps even enough to blow the cricket scandal off the front pages. The headlines would have been unanimous in denouncing the ALP for forcing men of faith to work on their holy day

  9. Glenn Barry

    They will never get pairs again, and deservedly so, I hope the legislation was worth it

  10. Oscar

    Great piece Terry 2.

  11. ajogrady

    As the Liberal president once said that the then Howard/Costello L/NP government was ” mean and sneaky”. Mean and sneaky is now in the L/NP’s DNA and there is no depth to low for them to sink to. Maybe these L/NP politicians God may forgive them but I doubt the people will,knowing how they have disgraced their faith and abused parliamentary convention.

  12. Greg March

    I’m a christian and what they did was a moral,intelectual, spiritual, betrayal.

  13. Terry2

    Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy – he of Lobster with a Mobster fame – has admitted to ordering the two MPs to break their word in order to defeat the government’s fire services reform legislation.

    Guy is reported to have said :

    “The means were absolutely justified and I stand by it and I would do the same tomorrow.”

    So, that’s the end of that convention, it seems.

  14. Jaquix

    Those two greaseballs look as if theyve come out of the same mould!

  15. Judith

    Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

  16. Harry

    An appalling act of treachery. Guy tried to justify it by invoking the end justifies the means metaphore. Politics is the alternative to the “game of thrones” forceful imposition of will and conventions serve to avoid that.

    I hope the conservatives will regret what they have done. So called Christians should have been true to their professed ethics and morality. They can’t claim they were ordered to do what they did by Guy.

  17. Rossleigh

    Mm, consider the following scenario:
    Liberals win next election by less than a seat. Premier asks for a “pair” so he can travel overseas. Labor say, of course, but first we’ll need to see your ticket, and, by the way, if there’s legislation that we really don’t like, it’s only right that we ignore the pairing arrangement because the “end justifies the means”…

  18. Kaye Lee

    Exodus 20:7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”

  19. Ross

    Just send Finn and Ondarchie a full sheet of yellow 100 git sandpaper.

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