TONY Abbott missed the key economic vote of the new Parliament – the $42 billion fiscal stimulus package – because he fell asleep after a night of drinking witnessed by MPs from both sides of Parliament.
Mr Abbott told Chief Opposition Whip Alex Somlyay that he missed five divisions on the night of Thursday, February 12 because he fell asleep in his office.
His nap followed dinner in the Members’ Dining Room with Peter Costello, Kevin Andrews and Peter Dutton, where numerous bottles of wine were consumed
Treasurer Wayne Swan, in the midst of a speech on the Government’s response to the global economic crisis, noted the absence of high-profile Liberal MPs.
“The Member for Higgins (Mr Costello), as this vital debate in the history of the country is going on, is currently in the dining room,” he said at 10.10pm.
“He is currently in the dining room with the Member for Menzies (Mr Andrews). He is currently in the dining room with the Member for Warringah (Mr Abbott).
“That is what they think about the strategy … those on that side of the house.”
By 11.35pm, when the bells for the division on the Government’s Nation Building and Job Plan legislation sounded, Mr Costello, Mr Dutton and Mr Andrews had returned to the chamber to vote.
But Mr Abbott was absent. Hansard records show he missed five votes that evening – he had not requested leave and was not paired with a Government MP.
The Warringah MP was asleep in his office.
Mr Abbott told The Sunday Telegraph the group had consumed a couple of bottles of wine, but denied he had fallen asleep as a result of heavy drinking.
He had helped with bushfire recovery efforts on the Central Coast four nights earlier and had not caught up on sleep.
“I don’t get a lot of sleep in Canberra. By the time you get to bed, it’s usually after 11 and I usually get up at five or earlier,” he said.
“If you start off the week tired, it’s very hard to catch up.”
Asked if he was drunk, Mr Abbott said: “That is an impertinent question. I had dinner with the gentlemen you mentioned, there’s no doubt we had a couple of bottles of wine, I wasn’t keeping count, maybe two.
This is an impertinent question. I’m going to politely hang up now.”
The Nation Building and Jobs Bill, the Household Stimulus Package and the Tax Bonus for Working Australians were among House Bills on February 12.
Mr Somlyay said he does not take kindly to MPs who miss divisions, but he said he did not comment on individual cases.
“Tony Abbott rang me first thing in the morning and we had a talk about it,” he said.
“I don’t talk about individual cases.
“That’s between me and Tony Abbott. It’s private. Everyone knows what their duty is and I remind them very strongly what their duty is.
“We have to maintain numbers at all times.”