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Malcolm Turnbull's Mickey Mouse excuse for his missing Nationals ministers

You'd have to believe Mickey Mouse was the Roadrunner to believe that National Party ministers hadn't gone gun-shy.

The case of the missing ministers caused quite a hubbub in Parliament on Tuesday.

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Opposition Leader Bill Shorten insisted it showed the government was in disarray and that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had lost control of his cabinet.

Turnbull himself went all Disney. It was nothing more than a Mickey Mouse matter, he proclaimed.

Both of them were referring to Monday's Senate vote on the importation of the much-vexed Adler shotgun; the one that sports a lever action allowing a shooter to fire off seven or eight cartridges in succession, and which is much admired by key crossbencher David Leyonhjelm, a fellow adept at holding the government to ransom.

The National Party jumps at the very mention of shooters since it lost its NSW state seat of Orange to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party over the weekend. The Nationals had owned the seat for 69 years until country voters revolted.

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And so, when the Senate was voting on keeping the current ban on the Adler, it seemed mighty curious that not only did the Nationals backbenchers Bridget McKenzie and John Williams cross the floor and effectively vote for the gun, but three ministers - Fiona Nash, Nigel Scullion and Matt Canavan — didn't show up to vote at all.

Shorten smelled a rat, or a nest of them. These ministers were bound by cabinet solidarity, he declared. If they had crossed the floor they would have to be sacked. Turnbull should sack them anyway, he hollered, but the PM couldn't because he'd lost control.

No rats here, Turnbull responded. Just a mouse. Mickey.

It was a Mickey vote, he declared.

A Mickey vote, political insiders know, is the one you have when it's over before it starts. With the government, Labor and the Greens all agreed on voting to maintain the ban on the Adler, the vote was never going to be close.

So it simply wasn't necessary for those Nationals ministers to turn up, said Turnbull. Why, several Labor shadow ministers hadn't, either, he pointed out. This didn't explain why the Liberal members of his cabinet had piled in for the vote, but Turnbull wasn't offering complicated explanations.

He was asking everyone to understand that there was nothing to see here.

If you believed that, you'd have to believe the faint sound of scuttling over in the Senate wasn't a group of Nationals ministers, suddenly gun-shy, trying to appear as invisible as mice.