Australia’s prime minister has said he “read the riot act” to three ministers after they went home early, meaning his government lost a series of votes.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s conservative coalition holds a majority of one seat in the parliament.
The opposition Labor Party came within a single vote of calling for a royal commission into Australian banks.
Coming at the end of the first week of the new parliament, the result is an embarrassment for Mr Turnbull.
It is seen as undermining the government’s claim of having a “strong working majority”.
MPs summoned back Three senior ministers – Peter Dutton, Christian Porter and Michael Keenan – were among the coalition MPs not in the Lower House when Labor decided to pull a surprise test of the government’s power.
Their absence meant the opposition won three consecutive motions: first surprising parliament against adjourning at the usual time of 16:30.
Second and third votes effectively brought forward a fourth vote on a royal commission into Australian banks.
The opposition have been pushing for this after a series of allegations of misconduct in the banking sector.
In response, MPs were recalled from airports and turned back on return drives to Sydney.
The government then regained control over parliament to quash the proposal.
‘It was a farce’
Mr Turnbull said the move exposed a degree of complacency among his colleagues, and that he had “read the riot act” to the ministers.
“A number of our members should not have left the building,” he told 3AW radio.
“They did the wrong thing, they know they did the wrong thing.
“They’ve been caught out. They’ve been embarrassed. They’ve been humiliated. They’ve been excoriated and it won’t happen again.”
Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese told the Nine Network: “If you can’t run the parliament, you can’t run the country.”
“It was a farce yesterday, it shows as an example of just how out of touch this government is; it doesn’t have an agenda, it doesn’t have ideas and now it doesn’t have control of the House of Representatives.”
Treasurer Scott Morrison dismissed the tactics as a “stunt” while Labor MP Michael Dandby said the move was a “legitimate political tactic”.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, now a backbench MP, said it would be a learning experience for many people.
“All of us are learning lessons all the time, whether you’re a journalist, a member of parliament, a whip or even a prime minister,” he said.