'Dozing' MP brings the house down
RAW VISION: Liberal Sydney MP Nickolas Varvaris votes with Labor after appearing to sleep through a division on Wednesday night in Canberra.PT2M58S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-32k1i 620 349 February 13, 2014
It's a brave thing for a politician to abandon his party and vote with the other side. But last night it was confusion, not bravery, that led the new Liberal member for Barton, Nickolas Varvaris, to unwittingly "cross the floor" and vote with Labor.
The Sydney MP walked into the chamber, took his usual seat and drifted off into his own world.
Campaign trail: Tony Abbott with Nickolas Varvaris, then Liberal candidate, now MP for Barton in Sydney. He unwittingly voted with Labor in Parliament on Wednesday after some conjecture of his state of wakefulness. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
Some thought he was asleep, but Labor MP Graham Perrett insisted Mr Varvaris was ''preoccupied''.
''He had just walked into the chamber so he couldn't have been asleep, even though I am told he had his eyes closed,'' Mr Perrett said.
While Mr Varvaris' state of wakefulness is a matter of dispute – and he has not yet returned Fairfax Media's calls to clarify – one thing is certain: he was sitting on the wrong side of the house after MPs switched sides for the vote.
Voted for the wrong side: Nickolas Varvaris. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
And as the Labor opposition MPs began filling the seats around him, all declined to alert the Liberal MP to his mistake.
The doors closed and Mr Varvaris was counted as a Labor vote.
Liberal MP Craig Laundy, who like Mr Varvaris is a new member of Parliament, said he ''felt sorry'' for his colleague.
''We're new to it,'' Mr Laundy said. ''There but for the grace of God go I.''
Mr Laundy said it was bad luck that Mr Varvaris was sitting in front of Mr Perrett, who is not known for his compassion to Tories.
''If you're going to cock up, the last bloke you want behind you is Graham Perrett,'' Mr Laundy said.
It was an unusually dysfunctional afternoon in Parliament, even by the standards of the federal House of Representatives.
Labor repeatedly disrupted proceedings in the house, after the Coalition earlier used its numbers to gag Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
Labor repeatedly called for a quorum as Coalition members delivered their speeches in response to the address the Governor-General gave on the first day of the new Parliament last year.
Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie accused lower house MPs of behaving like a ''pack of clowns''.
''I think the behaviour in the House of Representatives yesterday was juvenile and reflected badly on both the Coalition government and Labor opposition,'' he said. ''No wonder the public is sick of political parties.''
Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne accused Labor of ''undergraduate'' and ''ungentlemanly'' behaviour.
Some Labor MPs have expressed surprise at this statement, given Mr Pyne holds the record as the most ejected federal politician and the last Parliament was considered the most disrupted in Australian history.
Mr Pyne acknowledged that the Coalition was a ''robust'' opposition in the last Parliament.
''[But] we never descended into the undergraduate and bad-mannered and ungentlemanly behaviour that Labor descended into yesterday,'' he insisted.
''[Leader of opposition business] Tony Burke needs to grow up and stop being juvenile,'' Mr Pyne told journalists outside Parliament House.
''I know that he's about my age, perhaps a little bit older, and maybe he feels that the previous government was a manifest failure and he played a part in that.''
- with AAP