Standing by poker machine reforms ... independent MP Andrew Wilkie. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
THE Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie has warned the Gillard government he may block crucial budget policy measures and would give Labor 14 days to agree to his poker machine reforms if Peter Slipper was forced to stand aside while all claims against him were investigated.
Mr Wilkie, whose vote becomes crucial if Mr Slipper is stood aside and cannot vote, said last night he was inclined to pass the two appropriation, or money bills, of the budget because ''I believe the government of the day is entitled to have the funds to conduct the business of government''.
But this did ''not necessarily extend to any associated bills or any other matters that may come before the Parliament, including no-confidence motions, which I will take as they come and consider on their merits''.
The Slipper crisis has intensified concerns among Labor MPs about Julia Gillard's leadership and judgment. ''Doing what we have been doing is not working and will not work,'' a senior figure said this week. ''We cannot continue to be seen to be clinging to power just for the sake of it.''
MPs who supported Ms Gillard in the leadership showdown with Kevin Rudd in February say that if the party's dire situation has not improved in the months after the budget, they will reconsider their decision. But there was no great enthusiasm for any of the possible alternatives, including Mr Rudd, or Stephen Smith or Bill Shorten.
Earlier Mr Wilkie said that if Mr Slipper stood aside for a longer time and the government again had a single-vote majority, he would drive a much harder bargain to achieve the crackdown on problem gambling, which generated a backlash from the clubs that Labor backbenchers said caused them more electoral pain than the carbon tax.
Getting out of implementing that deal was a key reason the government agreed in November to make Mr Slipper Speaker. It offered Mr Wilkie a watered-down plan in January. ''I won't give them 18 months again. They'll get 14 days - take it or leave it,'' Mr Wilkie told ABC radio.
He said he would also try to use his influence to help the ''crisis'' in Tasmania's public health system, perhaps seeking a cash injection to stop cutbacks.
Ms Gillard and her strategists say Mr Slipper can resume the Speaker's chair once allegations of criminal misuse of Cabcharge vouchers are dealt with - claims the government says have been shown to be ''not correct'' with the release by Mr Slipper of the Cabcharge vouchers in question.
But the Coalition and at least two independents have said Mr Slipper should stand aside while all investigations are carried out, and the probable success of a parliamentary motion against him is likely to persuade him to stand aside.
The leader of the House of Representatives, Anthony Albanese, appeared to be preparing for this contingency yesterday, saying that after talks with Mr Wilkie he was ''very confident the budget would be passed''.
The government is concerned Mr Slipper may resign and cause a byelection Labor would lose. Because of his long parliamentary service, his superannuation retirement benefit would be based on a percentage of his final salary, which as Speaker is almost double that of a backbencher.