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Slipper opens Parliament, then steps aside

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Judith Ireland

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IN FULL: Peter Slipper's statement to parliament

Peter Slipper denies all allegations made against him, saying a "trial by media seems to have become the order of the day".

PT0M0S 620 349

Peter Slipper has stepped down from the Speakership this afternoon, saying he has more work to do as Speaker and that he looks forward to coming back to the role.

Mr Slipper has stood aside from the prestigious role due to allegations of sexual harassment and travel rorts, made by former staffer James Ashby last month.

He opened Parliament as usual this afternoon, in his gown and white tie, but then made some short remarks before handing over to Deputy Speaker Anna Burke - who will fill in for Mr Slipper.

Christopher Pyne speaks during question time in the House of Representatives, where he sought to reinstate former speaker Harry Jenkins to the chair.

Christopher Pyne speaks during question time in the House of Representatives, where he sought to reinstate former speaker Harry Jenkins to the chair. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Ms Burke presided over a stormy opening session, with repeated attempts by the Coalition to suspend standing orders, firstly in a bid to replace Ms Burke as Speaker with Harry Jenkins, and then in an attempt to suspend controversial independent MP Craig Thomson for 14 days.

The Coalition’s moves to suspend standing order completely overshadowed the question part of question time – with only two questions during the session.

Before stepping down, Mr Slipper said that he believed he was entitled to the presumption of innocence and to have the civil and criminal claims made against him dealt with by the proper processes.

No-man's land ... independent MP Craig Thomson during question time at Parliament House today.

No-man's land ... independent MP Craig Thomson during question time at Parliament House today. Photo: Andrew Meares

"It is unfortunate that trial by media seems to have become the order of the day in this country," he said.

The member for Fisher said that he placed great importance on the institution of Parliament and that he had been trying to introduce procedural reforms into the House of Representatives.

"My understanding is that there is general appreciation in the broader community of what I am trying to achieve as Speaker," he said.

"There is much more to be done and I look forward to completing what I have begun."

With that, Mr Slipper invited Ms Burke to take the chair.

While he stands aside from the Speaker's role, he will not have a vote in the Parliament.

The manager of opposition business, Christopher Pyne, opened question time this afternoon by moving a motion to suspend standing orders in a bid to reinstate former speaker Harry Jenkins to the chair.

The house was drawn at 72 votes on each side, with independent Andrew Wilkie siding with the Coalition – a sure sign that the Tasmanian MP has torn up his agreement to support the government.

Ms Burke said her casting vote was not needed, because the motion required an absolute majority (of 76) to be carried.

Mr Pyne said the standing of the Parliament had never been so low and it needed a Speaker who had demonstrated fairness and integrity.

"That man is sitting in the house right now," he said of Mr Jenkins.

Mr Pyne insisted that the Coalition move was nothing personal against Ms Burke, but that the clock needed to be "restarted", back to before Mr Jenkins resigned as Speaker in November last year.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Julie Bishop, called on the independents to vote against the government, calling Julia Gillard a "scheming Prime Minister".

Leader of the House Anthony Albanese said the opposition had ignored question time with the motion.

"Not a single question on the economy on budget day," Mr Albanese said.

Mr Albanese also said it was unconstitutional to try to depose the Deputy Speaker.

"Well done by those opposite."

Mr Thomson - who made his debut on the crossbench today, having handed back his ALP membership - also came under fire from the opposition in the House this afternoon.

After Ms Gillard ended question time at 3.10pm, Mr Pyne moved to suspend standing orders again, this time so that the House could debate suspending Craig Thomson for 14 days.

Mr Wilkie again voted with the Coalition, but the vote was lost 72 to 70.

Liberal backbencher Paul Fletcher had been kicked out of the House since the last vote and Bob Katter, who voted with the Coalition regarding Mr Jenkins, did not vote in the Thomson round.

During the debate, Ms Bishop said that Mr Thomson needed to make a statement to the House about the allegations he misused union funds before entering Parliament in 2007.

Mr Albanese repeated the government's claim that Mr Thomson was entitled to the presumption of innocence.

As Mr Thomson looked on without expression, Mr Albanese dismissed the Coalition's 14-day plan.

"Think about what the implications are of that," he said.

"It's called democracy," Mr Albanese said, noting the separation of the Parliament and the courts.

Independent Rob Oakeshott sided with the government on both votes but later released a statement explaining his actions.

Mr Oakeshott said the Coalition had not even asked Mr Jenkins if he would accept his old job back.

‘‘I sat alongside Mr Jenkins in the vote, further confirming this lack of desire on his behalf,’’ Mr Oakeshott said.

In less reassuring terms for the government, the member for Lyne said that he regarded the Fair Work Australia findings as ‘‘serious’’ and that he was ‘‘deeply considering all options available’’.

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