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Slipper was always a bad fit and should not be reinstalled

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A discredited Speaker corrodes trust in the political system.

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Dockets will exonerate me: Slipper

Speaker Peter Slipper makes public a slew of the Cabcharge dockets in the hope they will vindicate him.

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LET'S start with the bottom line. The government should cut Speaker Peter Slipper loose. He is not an appropriate occupant of a position that carries all the symbolism of Parliament's role at the apex of our democratic system.

Slipper is standing aside while allegations he breached the criminal law by misusing Cabcharges are examined. He is not waiting for the police to finish their assessment - last night he released a batch of Cabcharges that he obtained from the Finance Department, saying the ''documents have all been completed by me and are clearly in my handwriting, as I said they were''.

At the very least, the government should tell Slipper there can be no return while any legal action is afoot.  

The government has said he can return to work if cleared of these allegations, made by a male staffer, even though civil action claiming sexual harassment, brought by the same man, will not have been resolved.

This is not tenable, in either practice or principle. At a practical level, the opposition looks as if it could muster the parliamentary numbers to call on Slipper to remain in limbo until the civil issues are dealt with. Crossbenchers Tony Windsor and Andrew Wilkie say he should not resume duties until everything is satisfactorily squared away; Rob Oakeshott could take the same view. The government will go to almost any length to avoid losing a significant vote, so it would not risk the big embarrassment of a defeat on this.

Apart from talking about the presumption of innocence, it argues that if political figures have to stand aside whenever civil cases are brought, this will encourage vexatious actions for political motives.

It highlights Malcolm Turnbull being named in a case brought by the HIH liquidator when he was a minister and opposition leader; Julia Gillard yesterday referred to Liberal senator Sean Edwards, accused of deceptive conduct in a commercial transaction. At one level, the argument about civil cases is strong, and probably should usually be the default position.

When it comes to Slipper, however, having a matter as serious as alleged sexual harassment hanging over him when he is trying to manage the House, and to represent Parliament, is a bridge too far. At the very least, the government should tell Slipper there can be no return while any legal action is afoot. But, for the sake of the speakership, it should go further.

Lawyers have to meet the test of being of ''good fame and character'' to practise their profession. This concept is useful when applied to senior political offices. The bar is higher than just the obvious disqualifications. In the legal case, the principle is that it is difficult to maintain trust in the system if practitioners have clouds over their characters; also, at a day-to-day level, for the ordinary business of the courts to function properly, there has to be a level of trust between judges and lawyers.

Slipper would be familiar with the ''good fame and character'' principle. He is the chief legal adviser to the Traditional Anglican Communion (a position from which the church's archbishop, John Hepworth, is trying to get him to stand aside until the civil matters are over).

Even if he has not broken the criminal or civil law, Slipper's long-term behaviour has not been up to what is required of someone who becomes Speaker. His extravagant taxi charges, frequently running into hundred of dollars a trip and totalling $45,000 over an 18-month period, are, even if within the law, pretty clearly a misuse of taxpayer dollars on any commonsense measure. His alleged comments to his staffer, even if not sexual harassment, would seem to many people inappropriate between employer and employee.

The Speaker is a representative of Parliament to the people; he also has to run the House of Representatives, a difficult job, especially when the numbers are hung. The electorate is already cynical about politicians. To have the Speaker discredited further corrodes trust in the political system and its institutions. In performing his duties in the House, Slipper has done well, being tough and establishing a fair degree of order. But assuming he resumed duties after this controversy, he would not carry authority with many MPs. For these reasons he should never return to the chair, not just stay out for the duration of his legal issues.

Without Slipper in place, the government's buffer is wafer thin. You can understand why it has been desperate to have him reinstalled ASAP if at all possible.

Some in government circles think the public will see this as all ''inside the beltway''. But voters, while (often unfairly) regarding politicians generally as a venal crowd, do react sharply to abuses of entitlements. More importantly, this affair adds to the perception that the government is lax on standards, defined widely to include its breaking of promises, something about which voters appear to have become more fierce recently. This impression was reinforced by the sleazy deal that installed Slipper.

Surely, sooner or later, the government, unless it is suicidal, will have to take a step back on Slipper. But it will be too late and it almost certainly will not go far enough. Once again Gillard will have compromised the standards she should meet.

Oh, and if the government ever did find itself searching for a new Speaker, it should avoid the tricky stuff and just stick to one of its own, tight numbers notwithstanding.

Michelle Grattan is political editor.

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217 comments

  • Abbott's holier- than-thou attitude about Peter Slipper's elevation to the speakership is that anyone who is in Julia Gillard's position would have done the same for political survival to shore up numbers' game in the House of Representative.

    Remember, Howard coaxed and cajoled Labor party turncoat Mal Colsten whom the Labor party refused to nominate to become the Deputy President of the Senate. In a bid to win him over to pass some crucial legislation, the Howard Coalition government supported him to become Deputy President of the Senate.

    Julia Gillard should have known allegations swirling around Peter Slipper's miscreants, likewise, Howard should have known about the venality allegations levelled against Mal Colsten. In both cases, the end justified the means. Hypocrisy, duplicity and dichotomy, thy name is politico!

    Commenter
    Kattooparambil
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    April 27, 2012, 7:40AM
    • And when allegations of travel rorts were leveled against him, Mal Colston was made to resign from his position, and he was never returned. When howard was caught out with a Dud. He ejected him. When Julia is caught out with a dud, she declares her full support and confidence, she welds herself to incompetence. She has done it with Thompson and now she welds herself to Slipper.

      Commenter
      Cwitty
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 27, 2012, 9:31AM
    • Cwitty - except now it looks like the cabcharges rort is false. So should other allegations by the same staffer now be taken with the same degree of seriousness? Or should Slipper be given the presumption of innocence until the investigation is completed. As for Grattan complaining Slipper should not have released those cabcharges she would have been the first to condemn him for not doing so if he hadnt and used the excuse it was still under investigation. Unfortunately the corrosion of trust in this case is with the media who are just seeking a sensational story wher enone appears to exist.

      Commenter
      StBob
      Date and time
      April 27, 2012, 10:46AM
    • Peter Slipper - Hung,drawn and quartered by a gleeful media feeding frenzy.
      I dont know if Mr Slipper is guilty or innocent but I'm more than happy to allow our rule of law and the judicial process to take its course and determine this.
      It is not the media's role to destroy reputations based on gossip and speculation nor is it their place to try them on the nations broadsheets. It's a pity journalists dont call themselves to a higher standard and at least report the facts with balance, rather than always delighting in the destruction of reputations in their jockeying to see their byline up in lights. After all there have been plenty of instances when they have been proved wrong after the fact; but too late to salvage the reputation of those they have maligned so vociferously. One day its Mr Slipper the next it could be Jo or Joette Public. We all need to demand higher standards of public conduct from all those who seek to engage with us either politically or in the media.
      That there is so much repetitive press on this issue is a testament to the fact that there is too much media and not enough news.

      Commenter
      Seriously
      Date and time
      April 27, 2012, 11:25AM
    • Well, my last comment wasn't published as I was critical of this journalist's story. I guess we're a bit precious at the Age. Anyway, the point I wanted to make was that I find it hard to believe that Abbott does not receive the criticism heaped on the PM and the Speaker. The position of Opposition Leader requires that it be strenuously examined and wrongs exposed. This is not currently happening.

      Commenter
      Jim
      Location
      Bayside
      Date and time
      April 27, 2012, 11:45AM
    • Tony Burkes says
      politicians shouldn't play "judge, jury and executioner on this issue".
      Nicoal Roxon Says
      "They are serious allegations. They should be properly tested. That's what the court process is for..."

      Labor says that people shouldn't judge him, before there has been a proper court process. Unless of course you think you can prove he is innocent like good old Albo.
      Yesterday Albanease said
      "I think it is appropriate that he has stepped aside whilst these criminal issues are being dealt with," Mr Albanese said.
      "But once they are dealt with, then as a result of that either he will return as Speaker, or take some other action depending what the findings are. But it's not up to politicians to pre-empt that process."

      Today Albo IS pre empting the process. It seems a politician can play judge jury and executioner as long as they find the government man innocent. A declaration of innocents or Guilt is pre-empting the process.

      The Hon A.Albo. Today.
      "Clearly they show that the allegations that had been made that he handed over blank Cab charge dockets to a hire car driver on particular dates are simply not correct,"

      This new evidence needs to be tested in court before a decision of guilt or innocents can be determined. Until all allegations are properly tested he needs to stand aside, in the same way Commodore Kafer was made to.

      Commenter
      Cwitty
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 27, 2012, 11:55AM
    • @ Cwitty

      " And when allegations of travel rorts were leveled against him, Mal Colston was made to resign from his position, and he was never returned."

      Not so. Colston RESIGNED when 28 counts of CRIMINAL charges were laid against him.

      They were dropped in the light of his terminal cancer.
      " When howard was caught out with a Dud. He ejected him."

      Just like the first part of your post, a total fabrication to try to justify your partisan views.

      " When Julia is caught out with a dud, she declares her full support and confidence, she welds herself to incompetence. She has done it with Thompson and now she welds herself to Slipper."

      See above. After that, look up "the presumption of innocence."

      The read Franz Kafka's "The Trial".

      The result for Dr Colston was disgrace; he was charged with 28 counts of fraud. In mid-1999, his term having expired, he vacated the Senate, and the Director of Public Prosecutions dropped the charges because Dr Colston was suffering from terminal cancer.

      Commenter
      BillR
      Date and time
      April 27, 2012, 12:47PM
    • Kattooparambil!!! The left is being pantsed by itself. It's just not funny, this is egregious and in any other country citizens would be rioting in the streets and torching cars. You should have the decency to see this awful, awful, awful situation for what it is and also call for an election.

      Commenter
      housemartin
      Date and time
      April 27, 2012, 12:48PM
    • @ Cwitty

      No, the police only have to ascertain, to their satisfaction, whether they are genuine, and prove Slipper's defence. Only if there is considerable doubt about the dockets and a conviction is likely, should the matter proceed to trial. Otherwise you're just wasting taxpayer's money on political witch hunts.

      Commenter
      BillR
      Date and time
      April 27, 2012, 12:53PM
    • Can someone also explain to me Bill Shortens performance on Sky News this morning when asked what his response to Gillard was? His response: "I haven't heard it but I support what the PM says". When pressed again with incredulity he responded; "I don't know but i'm sure she's right". The reporter was dumstruck almost speechless. This is not about who's side your on anymore this is about getting our country back. The left needs to finally admit it and take the ethical and moral position of also calling for an election.

      Commenter
      housemartin
      Location
      Hong Kong
      Date and time
      April 27, 2012, 1:36PM

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