Federal Politics

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Budgeting on revival amid sense of perpetual crisis

LABOR'S glimmer of hope that the budget might persuade voters to give it a second chance just went out.

Now budget day - May 8 - will be as much about the drama surrounding sexual harassment allegations against the Speaker, Peter Slipper, as any policy Wayne Swan hands down.

Even if by the time Parliament resumes the Department of Finance inquiry has cleared Mr Slipper of criminal allegations that he misused Cabcharge vouchers - which is what the government and Slipper seem to be hoping - the civil lawsuit for sexual harassment brought by former staffer James Ashby will still be hanging over his head.

It appears unlikely to bring about the government's immediate fall. Independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor and Greens Adam Bandt are disinclined to support any motion by the Coalition to force Slipper to resign or stand aside while the sexual harassment charges are heard, at least on the basis of the information that has come out so far.

They point to numerous instances of politicians who continued to serve in high office while due process took its course.

And even if some independents changed their mind and Slipper was forced out of the Speaker's job, with Slipper on the cross benches and Labor's Anna Burke in the Speaker's chair, the government could survive and pass legislation with the votes of Oakeshott, Windsor, Bandt and either Slipper or independent Andrew Wilkie.


Given Wilkie "tore up" his agreement with Julia Gillard over the abandoned pokies deal and Slipper was a lifelong conservative before his defection, such a scenario would be uncertain and tenuous, but not impossible.

What does look impossible is the government's plan to use the reassurance of the budget's return to surplus and big picture policy on disability to claw its way back from its current wipe-out situation in the opinion polls, which are predicting the loss of 25 or 30 lower house seats.

Turning around entrenched voter disenchantment was always going to be difficult, but with the Fair Work report into Craig Thomson due for release around budget time and the sexual harassment allegations against Slipper due for their first court hearing later that month anything else the government says will struggle to be heard.

Even worse, it will not be able to deliver the one thing the electorate appears to crave - stable, steady administration - and instead a sense of perpetual crisis will continue.

That means voters are more likely to stick with their previous assessment - they're fed up with the chaos and the government is a disappointment.

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They point to numerous instances of politicians who continued to serve in high office while due process took its course.


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