Explainer: Crossing the floor

What is crossing the floor and why would a senator or member want to do it?

Jun 10, 2020

Last week, a senator crossed the floor. What does this mean?

When a member of a parliamentary party votes against their team in a division vote, it’s called crossing the floor. Division votes require members to move to one side of the chamberor the other, so by voting differently from the rest of their party, they literally cross the floor to sit across the room from their team.

Why did this make the news?

Crossing the floor is rare. Political parties in Australia expect loyalty from their parliamentary members and, as a result, parties usually vote as a team.

So why did this senator cross the floor?

The Senate was voting on whether or not the ‘the future development of Australia’s relationship with the People’s Republic of China’ should be referred to a committee for investigation. The government and opposition both voted no. Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells—a member of the government—crossed the floor to vote with members of the crossbench to support the proposal. Senator Fierravanti-Wells explained that, ‘As a backbencher, I am entitled to express my point of view. I have always prided myself on expressing my values and beliefs.’

What is the consequence of crossing the floor?

There may be consequences for senators and members who cross the floor but this is a matter that would be dealt with by the party and is not a matter for the Parliament. For example, a senator or member who crosses the floor may have to explain their actions to their party or face other consequences.