IT'S hard to go beyond that old cliche about dogs and fleas when considering the latest bizarre Peter Slipper twist, which has the government reeling yet again.
The snaring of Slipper last year was a tactical coup for Labor's numbers. But it was sleazy. Slipper was receptive because he was about to lose Coalition preselection - and that was mainly because of serial dubious behaviour.
As Speaker he has been tough, especially on the opposition, and that's made the House operate better, which helps the government. But ''Slippery Pete'' is a strange guy who seems to live a strange life and is always a risk.
The dangers for the government in the allegations by a staffer that Slipper sexually harassed him, and misused Cabcharges, are twofold.
The most obvious is that if the investigation holds up the Cabcharge claim (a criminal matter), his position becomes unsustainable. Even the government, with its rather flexible views on propriety and its obsession about ''process'', would find it hard to argue otherwise.
If he is cleared of that, the sexual harassment allegation will drag on. This is a civil matter; the government argues that civil actions are brought against politicians all the time, and it would not be a bar to Slipper continuing as Speaker.
It points to Malcolm Turnbull being a minister and later opposition leader, while named in a $500 million damages claim brought by the liquidator of HIH (ultimately settled in his favour).
The point in the Slipper affair, however, is that the claims discredit the government by association. He's its man and the allegations (despite the presumption of innocence) further reinforce the strong impression that he has (bad) form.
The secrecy in which the government shrouds its dealings with him just makes things look worse. Yesterday Anthony Albanese declined to publicly confirm his conversation with Slipper. Julia Gillard stayed mum from the time the allegations broke in Saturday's News Ltd tabloids until she took off on her overseas trip. Slipper's statement came out around the same time as the VIP plane's wheels lifted off the tarmac in Melbourne. Then she issued a statement saying he'd done the ''appropriate'' thing.
It is indeed ''appropriate'' he stands aside - but it was also vital for the government. Otherwise the budget run up would have been dominated by discussion about parliamentary moves to force him out of the chair, with budget day itself overshadowed by the crisis.
As it is, crossbenchers, especially Andrew Wilkie, will be satisfied at least for the moment, and the opposition will find it harder to whip up more outrage while the Finance inquiry is on.
On the sexual harassment matter, Labor is pointing the finger at the Liberals; John Howard's senior staffer Tony Nutt was told in 2003 of a compromising video (involving another Slipper staffer). The matter was hushed up, although Slipper did lose his parliamentary secretaryship after the 2004 election.
The government is in a bind. On the one hand it is suggesting all sorts of Liberals could be called if the civil claims ever came to court. On the other, it is playing down the importance of the civil proceedings. Then again, when cornered, governments try to have things both ways.
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