As Lady Bracknell may have said “To lose one vote may be regarded as misfortune”.
And so it was at 5.00 pm when Speaker Tony Smith put the motion “That the House do now adjourn.” The government lost, 67 to 69 – the first time, Labor claims, that a government has lost a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives for more than half a century.
A number of ministers were missing from the vote; Peter Dutton, Michael Keenan and Christian Porter.
Dutton and Porter were located after a while, giving the government the numbers to finally shut down proceedings and end the first sitting week of the new term almost two and a half hours later at 7.21
Too late, of course. By then the damage had been done.
It didn’t matter. After all the focus on the day had been on the adventures of “Sino” Sam Dastyari, suddenly the government’s vulnerabilities were laid bare — vulnerabilities only exacerbated by the Prime Minister’s premature declaration ahead of the completion of the count in the Queensland seat of Herbert that he had “a very solid working majority”.
The government had put on a brave face, tabling bill after bill after bill. All for naught.
Turnbull’s tenuous grasp on power could not have been spelt out so swiftly.
Now, the details of which members attend and which members miss divisions will be noted with a zealotry unseen since Sovietologists studied the line-up on Lenin’s tomb as the May Day procession marched past to see who had fallen in and out of favour with Comrade Stalin over the past year.
The only difference will be that Turnbull cannot afford to purge anyone.
His leadership and government hang by a thread.