THE Gillard government's hopes of having Peter Slipper back in the Speaker's chair in time for the May budget have been dashed, with a second key independent MP deciding Mr Slipper should stand aside while all claims against him are heard.
The shift in position by Tony Windsor means Mr Slipper is unlikely to resume the speakership for many months, leaving the government with a majority of just one vote.
This is the same position numerically that Labor was in before Mr Slipper's defection from the Liberal National Party in November, but politically it is far more precarious because the Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie has ''torn up'' his agreement with Labor after it was unable to deliver on an agreement over poker machines.
Tony Windsor says Peter Slipper should stand aside for the duration of all investigations, dashing the government's hopes of having Mr Slipper back in the Speaker's chair in time for the budget. Photo: Penny Bradfield
Mr Windsor told the Herald he would call Mr Slipper in coming days to advise him of his decision.
''I have been going through the material and I think it's probably best that he not resume his seat until this stuff is sorted out,'' Mr Windsor said.
''That doesn't mean I am pre-judging him, but I think it definitely is having an impact on how people view the Parliament and the office of Speaker … and I think until it's sorted out it's better that he stay away from the chair.''
Mr Wilkie has also said Mr Slipper should stand aside for the duration of all investigations - meaning the Coalition is likely to have the numbers for a motion against Mr Slipper if he tried to return to the speakership before all the charges are heard.
Mr Slipper stood aside last weekend, but only for an investigation into a specific allegation by his former staff member James Hunter Ashby that he had handed over blank Cabcharge vouchers on three occasions. The government had been confident this matter would be settled quickly and Mr Slipper could then resume the speakership.
But a separate civil case by Mr Ashby alleging Mr Slipper sexually harassed him is not due for a preliminary hearing until May 21.
The independent senator Nick Xenophon told the Herald the precarious numbers in the House would mean ''Andrew Wilkie will probably get a whole lot more attention from the government than he has been''.
Senator Xenophon said this was ironic because the main incentive for last year's deal with
Mr Slipper had been to remove its reliance on Mr Wilkie's vote to avoid the agreed poker machine reforms.
Archbishop John Hepworth, the primate of Mr Slipper's church, the Traditional Anglican Communion, yesterday publicly advised he stand aside as the church's senior legal officer while all charges were heard.
Archbishop Hepworth said Mr Slipper was a ''complex'' man.
''I've heard rumours,'' he told the ABC. ''I've pursued some of these rumours in connection with Peter Slipper and I have been satisfied that there was no proof existing, so I carry on.
''There are a number of Peter Slippers. There's the very devoted husband … I've also seen Peter drink too much. I've spoken to him about this. I've seen the arrogance that comes about when that happens.
''So I've seen the complexity of Peter Slipper. And what we're seeing at the present time is one of those sides, although he, let it be said, denies the moral and sexual wrongdoing in the harassment case and also denies the criminal matter.''
While stood aside, Mr Slipper cannot vote and Labor's deputy speaker, Anna Burke, takes the chair.
The independent MP Rob Oakeshott has said he needs more information about the claims against Mr Slipper.
Two limousine drivers were yesterday reported as saying Mr Slipper had often paid for single trips with multiple vouchers. Sources said this was not necessarily against regulations, but under a protocol developed by the former Liberal finance minister Nick Minchin, the Department of Finance looks at all allegations of entitlement misuse.
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