Back in the day, it used to be claimed as one of the glories of the Liberal and National Parties that their MPs had freedom to vote as they chose, while Labor MPs were bound by Caucus solidarity, except in the case of an explicit “conscience vote”, which has been traditionally confined to issues of (sexual) morality.
I had the impression that his freedom was now only a memory in the LNP, but this story has George Christensen threatening to cross the floor over the government’s superannuation reforms. The defeat of a key budget measure in the House of Representatives is (I would have thought) tantamount to a vote of no confidence in the government. Nevertheless, the story goes on to cite Barnaby Joyce as defending Christensen’s right to vote against the government and says that Joyce himself has crossed the floor 28 times.
I’m genuinely bemused here. If it’s OK to vote against budget policies, what can it mean to say that Liberal MPs are not free to vote as they choose on equal marriage? What is the penalty for doing so? If there is none, why don’t we see anyone willing to do so?
Labor’s position on these things in my opinion, wrong. A Labor MP who crosses the floor is deemed to have automatically expelled themselves. This might have made sense a century ago when Labor was a third party needing tight discipline to survive and when the Parliamentary party was bound by party policy. Nowadays, the official policy of the party can be overturned at the whim of the party leader. The only cases I can recall of expulsion involve members defending party policy against betrayal by the leadership, such as that of George Petersen.
Still, at least Labor is clear on demanding obedience to the party line. As far as I can tell, the LNP position is that rightwingers get a free vote, but moderates are bound by the majority. Can anyone clarify?