Sunday, April 22, 2012

Slip Sliding Away

After arriving back in Australia this morning, Peter Slipper this afternoon stood aside from his position as Speaker of the House. It was the right thing to do.

Mr Slipper's self-imposed suspension is only in force until the conclusion of the criminal matter - the allegation that he misused government issued CabCharge vouchers. It's a journey Slipper is familiar with, having been there in 2010. That scandal resulted in Slipper repaying tens of thousands of dollars in illegitimate travel expenses to the Commonwealth. The current CabCharge allegations are a criminal matter and are being investigated by Federal Police.

In the matter of James Ashby's allegations of sexual harassment, Slipper is maintaining his innocence.

Much has been revealed since I wrote yesterday's blog post. Some of Mr Ashby's past has been revealed. Rather than being an idealistic young political operative with hopes of one day running for office, as I had pictured,  Mr Ashby is a former FM radio announcer, and most recently, worked in PR for a commercial strawberry farm on the Sunshine Coast. Ten years ago he was convicted of making threatening calls to a rival radio announcer. It's likely that his exposure to the political sphere has been minimal.

We've learned more about Mr Slipper's past too. Apparently, Canberra insiders close to the Liberal Party have been aware for years of a rumoured video featuring Mr Slipper and a youngish man. I'll leave you to fill in the blanks. To paraphrase an old school friend of mine, when Tony Abbott said to Julia Gillard after Slipper gained the Speakership "he's your problem now", he knew what he was talking about. 

And none of it makes any difference.

CabCharge notwithstanding, for Mr Slipper, charges of sexual harassment are just the start of what's to come. He's a married man in his early 60s with a high profile. He's an ordained priest. He has few friends in politics or media. Regardless of how the charges play out, this mud looks like sticking. Moreover, as Peter Beattie said today, he has no credibility left.

If the allegations are true, he's far from the first federal MP to indulge in some extra-curricular relating. Craig Emerson and Julia Gillard "hooked up" about ten years ago. Dr Emerson was married with three children at the time. Even now, there's at least one member of federal parliament who's making whoopee with someone he shouldn't. When these types of indiscretions become public, there's an appropriate amount of tsk-tsking, but as Julia Gillard has proven, it's not a career-limiting activity. 

The difference is "harassment". Prime Minister Gillard and Dr Emerson were "involved". The current MP who is enjoying himself with a member of his staff is doing so with her consent, as far as I know. No-one was bullied, pressured, abused or hurt in the making of those affairs. (The hurt comes later.)

The Australian Human Rights Commission website tells the story:

In 2009 – 2010, 21% of all complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission were under the Sex Discrimination Act, and 88% of those complaints related to sex discrimination in the workplace. The wide use of new technologies such as mobile phones, email and social networking websites creates new spaces where sexual harassment may occur.

I hope, for everyone's sake, that the allegations of sexual harassment against Mr Slipper are not true. If they are true, let's at least use this opportunity to drive the message that sexual harassment is not acceptable. Ever. 

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