Opposition Leader Tony Abbott bolted from Parliament as former Labor MP Craig Thomson voted with the coalition so it could continue debating the Federal Budget.
The extraordinary scene, captured on television cameras, came as the government moved to “gag” shadow treasurer Joe Hockey who was addressing a suspension motion regarding the commonwealth debt ceiling.
The Hansard record shows Mr Abbott voting alongside Mr Thomson on the initial gag motion, despite the Opposition leader’s vow never to accept the MP’s “tainted vote”.
Deputy Speaker Anna Burke had already ordered the parliamentary chamber doors to be locked to count MPs’ votes.
But on three subsequent motions the Liberal leader was allowed to leave the chamber and did not record a vote.
He was joined by manager of opposition business Christopher Pyne.
Mr Abbott accused Labor and Mr Thomson of orchestrating “a stunt”.
“As soon as it became apparent the Government was pulling this stunt, Christopher Pyne and I absented ourselves from the chamber,“ Mr Abbott said in Canberra.
But Mr Thomson said he had not spoken to any Labor MPs about it, and the gag motion came as much as a surprise to him as every other MP inside and outside the chamber.
Mr Pyne said he had left the chamber to “negate the tainted vote of the member for Dobell”.
“Unlike Labor, who continue to rely on the member for Dobell’s vote, the coalition has taken the principled stand of refusing to accept his vote under any circumstances, even on a no-confidence motion,” he said.
It was the first time Mr Thomson, now an independent, had voted with the coalition on a procedural motion since April 29 when he was suspended from the Labor caucus.
He is facing court action by Fair Work Australia, which found that as Health Services Union national secretary from 2002 to 2007 he misused members’ funds.
Mr Thomson denies any wrongdoing.
The MP said as an independent he would not support gag motions and would consider all government legislation on its merits.