Saturday, April 21, 2012

Something About Slipper

Speaker of the House and former Liberal Peter Slipper has been accused by a relatively new male staffer, of sexual harassment. In a single, terse tweet,  Mr Slipper denied the accusation, despite reports confirming that Slipper's accuser has provided emails and text messages as evidence.

Since Sydney's Daily Telegraph lead with the story after midnight this morning, media has scrambled to get at the facts, but faster than a Zyrtec, attention has screamed from salacious accusation to blame game. It doesn't seem to matter whether Mr Slipper is guilty; this is politics and therefore, someone is to blame. 

On Sky News, vintage Liberal politician Bronwyn Bishop described the allegations as "a bombshell", and "an enormous disappointment". Ms Bishop has obviously known Mr Slipper since she was elected to federal parliament in 1994, and she  emphasised that that allegations against Mr Slipper were a complete surprise.

 Yet according to Ms Bishop, the worst crimes are the ones of Prime Minister's own making. The eternal cloud that hangs over Labor's Craig Thomson and and his finances during and after his time with the HSU, and now the allegations against Mr Slipper, (including new charges relating to his use of Cabcharge vouchers), are being wilfully ignored by the PM. Ms Bishop claims that the charges against Mr Slipper reflect badly on the parliament, and it's up to the Prime Minister to take action.

Bronwyn's partly right; it doesn't look good. Having said that, in the list of things that reflect poorly on this parliamentary term, this is just another example of alleged bad behaviour.  The climate inside the chamber of this hung parliament is caustic. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's regular censure motions were a counterpoint to former Speaker Harry Jenkins' rumbling calls for OoorDah!  The number of members ejected from the chamber - "sin-binned" - for bad behaviour is an insult to the constituents they represent.

This parliament deserves its reputation for bad behaviour which is, more often than not, led by Opposition front-benchers. How does that reflect on the parliament, Ms Bishop?

Late last year, Slipper's promotion to Speaker and his departure from the Liberal party was accompanied by strident calls from within the Queensland LNP that Slipper was planning to undermine LNP candidates in the recent State election. Peter Slipper was not well liked within his own party. In fact, the Liberal Party wasn't his first choice anyway.

Mr Slipper was originally elected as a member of the Nationals, then later as a Liberal, leaving the party behind in late 2011 to accept the role of Speaker and serve as an Independent. Timing is critical with today's accusation: Mr Slipper's accuser was hired after Slipper quit the Libs. This can't be spun as a Liberal failure.

Still, I doubt I'm the only punter who is wondering about Peter Slipper. He's in his early sixties, married, and his previous 'scandals' have involved overenthusiastic use of travel allowances, and unenthusiastic support for party politics. Not a hint of anything personal.  

In addition to his career in politics, Mr Slipper is also prominent within his religion. In 2008, while serving as Deputy Speaker, he was ordained as a priest of the Anglican Catholic Church in Australia. Its not the first time a man of the cloth has occupied the Deputy Speaker's chair: Presbyterian Minister Philip Lucock, was the Country Party Member for Lyne, and served as  Deputy Speaker for every Coalition Prime Minister from Menzies to Fraser. Of course, being a cleric doesn't prevent anyone from indulging in unsavoury sexual activity.

This looks bad for Peter Slipper. There are, apparently, documents proving the existence of suggestive emails and texts. Slipper isn't speaking to media, and carries his history under a cloud. There's just something about this man that attracts negative attention. It could be dangerous for the Gillard Government.

Equally dangerous is our tendency to jump to the nearest, juiciest conclusion, rustle up a quick round or two of the blame game and make political hay. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has called for the Prime Minister to take swift action, for Mr Slipper to be stood aside. This potentially damaging tale is proof that Gillard will tolerate unprofessionalism to maintain her skinny status quo.

But nothing has been proven. This parliament is less about achievement and more about accusation and speculation. That's not good for anyone. 

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