Wags are saying it’s all the Parliamentary Library’s fault. On Tuesday they published a paper called Crossing the floor in the Federal Parliament 1950-August 2004 – and that evening he walked.

The paper is chokkas with delights for political wonks. Stuff like “Between 1950 and 2004, 245 MPs, (87 senators, 154 members and four who served in both houses) crossed the floor. This represents 24% of all MPs who sat in Parliament during this period. The proportion of floor crossers from the House of Representatives (63%) compared to the Senate (36%) reflects the relative size of these Chambers, although senators were more active dissenters. A slightly higher percentage of all senators (26%) crossed the floor compared to members (23%).”

There’s a nice list of serving parliamentarians who have crossed the floor. Amusingly, Robert Hill, the Leader of the Government in Senate, comes in at the top spot with ten trips across the red carpet.

It also observes: “The attitude of Coalition MPs towards dissent has not appeared to change markedly since Robert Menzies established the modern Liberal Party in 1944. Current Coalition MPs still argue that, in certain circumstances, they are entitled to cross the floor. However, the figures above confirm that ‘the modern Liberal Party just as much as Labor, comes down very hard on dissent’.” And that’s where it could do with these tables Crikey psephologist Charles Richardson has prepared.

It’s becoming rarer and rarer for Coalition MPs to assert their right to cross the floor. Have a look at the incidence of floor crossings under the different Liberal leaders, in government and opposition. The percentages are the proportion of all divisions that had floor crossers. Is the traditional right of Coalition MPs to think for themselves dying?

Prime Ministers

Menzies (1950-66) – 5%
Holt (1966-67) – 11%
Gorton (1968-71) – 7%
McMahon (1971-72) – no data available
Fraser (1975-83) – 6%
Howard (1996-2004) – 0.3%

Opposition Leaders

Snedden (1972-75) – 0.8%
Fraser (1975) – 0.4%
Peacock (1983-85) – 3.1%
Howard (1985-89) – 0.6%
Peacock (1989-90) – 2.3%
Hewson (1990-94) – 0.4%
Downer (1994-95) – 1.3%
Howard (1995-96) – 0%

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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