Rogue MP could blow up government
Queensland Liberal MP Andrew Charles Laming is now the most dangerous man in politics.
As he undergoes intensive counselling and therapy to mend his online behaviour, a process news.com.au understands will occur at a remote 'rehab' style facility over the next 30 days, he has a big decision to make.
That decision is whether or not to sit on the crossbench as an independent.
It is a decision that could plunge Prime Minister Scott Morrison's government into a crisis in the House of Representatives.
That's because Mr Laming's decision will determine whether or not the Morrison Government becomes a minority government, a crisis reminiscent of the days of the Gillard Government.
Right now, the Prime Minister still has a majority with 76 seats in the 151 seat parliament, but when you account for the Speaker Tony Smith who traditionally does not vote, the working numbers on the floor are now down to tight 75 seats.
Last month, Craig Kelly defected to the crossbench after a storm of controversy over his views on COVID-19 vaccines.
That means any vote is potentially deadlocked at 75-75 on contentious legislation.
The Speaker can deliver a casting vote if a vote is deadlocked, but this is a rare situation.
In practice, this means that the Morrison Government will need Mr Kelly or another crossbencher or the Labor Party every time they want to pass legislation.
Or, they will need the Speaker to deliver a casting vote. According to the Presiding Officers, that's not a minority government, but it's close.
What if Mr Laming goes to the crossbench?
But if Mr Laming decides to go to the crossbench - or is pushed by the Prime Minister - the Morrison Government will be rendered a minority government.
They will be reduced to just 75 seats in the 151 seat parliament. That means, when the Speaker is taken out of the equation, they have just 74 serving LNP MPs.
The Labor Party has 68 votes. There are four independents and three minor parties MPs - the Greens, Katter's Australia Party and Centre Alliance.
In short, this means that the Liberals have 74 votes on the floor and the combined forces of the Labor Party, the Greens, the independents, Centre Alliance and Katter would have up to 76 votes if Mr Kelly voted with them.
Importantly, 76 is an absolute majority which is enough to control the agenda
How often you could bring everyone together is a different matter.
What impact could a minority government have?
Firstly, in theory it means parliament could deliver a vote of no confidence and bring down the government forcing an election.
That won't happen. Ex-Liberal MP Craig Kelly has guaranteed confidence and supply and if Mr Laming switches he would be expected to do the same.
In practice, this means the Morrison Government is 74 votes plus two ex-Liberal independents - 76 votes which is a majority.
That means the Morrison Government could still cling to power, a no-confidence motion that could bring down the government and force an early election will not happen.
But on legislation, it would be a different equation. To pass any new laws, the Prime Minister would need to plead with Mr Kelly and Mr Laming for support.
Ratcheting up the pressure, Labor's manager of opposition business Tony Burke warned late on Saturday night they were offering no guarantee on "a pair" an arrangement where Labor agrees to make one of their MPs sit out votes to ensure the numbers remain the same if there's a vote.
We will consider all our options but Andrew Laming should not be a member of parliament.#auspoI— Tony Burke (@Tony_Burke) March 27, 2021
This often happens when women take leave to have babies or in the case of Attorney-General Christian Porter taking mental health leave. He's back at work shortly with the PM expected to move him from his current portfolio in a reshuffle as early as Sunday.
But this time, the ALP is making no promises on the issue of 'pairs' with Mr Laming.
"We will consider all our options but Andrew Laming should not be a member of parliament,'' Mr Burke said.
In practice this could prove an empty threat. Parliament does not return until the budget in May. By that time Mr Laming's "sensitivity training" will be complete.
But Labor could adopt the tactics of the Liberal Party under Tony Abbott in 2012 when he dubbed former Labor MP Craig Thomson "a tainted vote" that the Prime Minister should not rely on. They could argue he is a stain on parliament that is holding the government together by a thread.
The pressure has only just begun.
Mr Laming has been slammed as "a perv" for taking a mobile phone photo of a woman's bottom when she was bending over - without her consent - in the latest allegations of bad behaviour engulfing the Morrison Government.
He rejected the assertion that he had "maliciously" taken an "inappropriate" photo of the woman's bottom but confirmed he did take a snap.
He has been accused of vile abuse towards two women online. Mr Laming has "unreservedly apologised" for "the hurt and the distress" caused by the attacks, which one of the women said left her feeling suicidal.
ACTU President Sally McManus said the behaviour was indefensible.
"Workers in Australia get sacked for way less than this everyday. His behaviour is completely indefensible,'' she said.
Many Australians would agree.
But if he goes to the crossbench, the Prime Minister will need the troublesome Mr Laming now, more than ever.
The future of his government could depend on it.
Originally published as Rogue MP could blow up government