Minister for the Pacific Pat Conroy has been forced to withdraw unparliamentary language after he said the opposition had “f—ed up the Pacific relationship” on the floor of the parliament.
The fiery exchange came during a vote in the lower house on Labor’s proposed visa lottery scheme, which would allow 3000 people from the Pacific to move to Australia and apply for permanent residency.
The plan, unveiled in February, is similar to the United States’ “green card” system and is designed to strengthen ties between Australia and its Pacific island neighbours.
Conroy’s comments cannot be heard during the division but Nationals MP Michael McCormack, the shadow minister for the Pacific, can be heard and seen in footage from the chamber hopping to his feet to ask for the comment to be withdrawn.
Speaker Milton Dick explains he did not hear the comment, but Conroy quickly withdrew.
When approached by this masthead, Conroy confirmed he made the indelicate comments and that he was genuinely angry that the opposition opposed the proposed visa scheme.
“I said something along the lines of ‘You f—– up the Pacific relationship when you were in government, and now you’re making it harder for us to fix it’,” he said.
There are strict rules around the language used in parliament and the manner in which MPs are supposed to address each other and Conroy’s comment falls well outside them.
The government had hoped the scheme will start on July 1, but following the Coalition’s decision this week to oppose it, Labor will need to secure the support of the Greens and two votes from the crossbench.
Applicants would have to meet health, character and English proficiency tests and be aged between 18 and 45. They would also need to secure a job in Australia.
The scheme would be open to applicants from East Timor (Timor-Leste), as well as Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.