Defence Minister Peter Dutton has claimed the government was “misled” by five Coalition MPs who crossed the floor over the religious discrimination bill.
Liberal MPs Trent Zimmerman, Fiona Martin, Dave Sharma, Bridget Archer and Katie Allen crossed the floor to support a crossbench and Labor amendment to protect gay and transgender students from being expelled from religious schools.
The contentious bill passed the lower house following a marathon debate early on Thursday. But the government decided not to proceed with debate in the Senate due to a lack of support.
Mr Dutton claimed the MPs who crossed the floor had blindsided the government about their intention to support the legislation.
“[Prime Minister Scott Morrison] was, frankly, misled … but there are undertakings that were given, the undertaking wasn’t honoured,” Mr Dutton told ABC Radio on Friday.
“The government doesn’t go into a vote like that unless assurances have been given.”
The religious discrimination laws were a major election commitment from Mr Morrison.
It is now unlikely they will be debated in the upper house before the next election, which must be held by May. There are just three Senate sitting days remaining.
Moderate Liberal senator Andrew Bragg had indicated he was also likely to cross the floor on the issue if debate moved to the upper house.
The government was unlikely to have the numbers to pass the bill in the Senate in the form it originally intended, having held urgent meetings with stakeholders after the vote in the House of Representatives.
Mr Dutton said the religious discrimination bill was put to a vote in the lower house due to guarantees from Liberal MPs that they would support it.
“We had very clear statements from a number of people, including beyond the five [who crossed the floor],” he said.
“The Prime Minister based his judgment, his actions, his decisions on a perfectly reasonable basis following discussions, and it’s difficult when you get to the floor of the parliament and those undertakings aren’t honoured.”
However, Mr Dutton said due to the tight numbers in parliament, the result would have been the same regardless of how many MPs crossed the floor.
“In certain circumstances if one goes in, you lose five, and you lose a vote by one, you can lose about five, it’s the same outcome,” he said.
The Coalition holds 76 seats in the lower house, the bare minimum for a majority in the House of Representatives.