Parliament has descended into high farce with scenes of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott making an undignified scramble to the exit in a frantic attempt to avoid a vote.
Suspended Labor MP Craig Thomson caught Coalition MPs by surprise yesterday when he entered the House of Representatives to vote with them against a gag motion put forward by the government.
Mr Abbott has continually criticised Prime Minister Julia Gillard for still accepting Mr Thomson's vote from the crossbench even though she recently kicked him out of the Labor caucus.
So the Opposition Leader did not want to be accused of accepting a vote himself from the now independent Mr Thomson, who is facing allegations he misused his former Health Services Union credit card for personal gain.
Once the opposition realised Mr Thomson was voting its way, Mr Abbott led a mad dash for the door. He was accompanied by the manager of opposition business Christopher Pyne and chief opposition whip Warren Entsch.
But Acting Speaker Anna Burke was having none of it and ordered that the doors be locked and the votes counted.
Mr Pyne made it out of the door, leaving the party leader in his dust.
Mr Pyne later said he had run ''like a gazelle'' in order to reach the exit and negate Mr Thomson's ''tainted vote''. Mr Entsch tried to make it to another exit but failed to get there in time. The Opposition Leader later claimed he had also avoided the vote, yet the parliamentary record includes Mr Abbott's name on the list of voters.
A subsequent motion resulted in Mr Pyne moving to the advisers' box inside the chamber in order to not have his vote counted.
There were actually four consecutive gag motions yesterday morning in which Mr Thomson voted against the government, even though he said upon his suspension from the party that he would vote with Labor from the crossbench.
Mr Abbott accused Mr Thomson and Leader of the House Anthony Albanese of colluding to try and embarrass the opposition. ''As soon as it became apparent the government was pulling this stunt, Christopher Pyne and I absented ourselves from the chamber, so we did not accept the tainted vote,'' he said.
However, both Mr Thomson and Mr Albanese said the government was not aware that Mr Thomson was intending to vote the way he did.
Mr Thomson said he was opposed to gagging debate and now that he was an independent MP he would vote against such motions.
The episode led to a feisty question time, during which Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan was at his mocking best. ''It was like the Three Stooges were back in play again,'' he said of the incident.
Three Opposition frontbenchers were booted out of question time for unruly behaviour.