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Slipper must give up ministry: archbishop

Date

Ross Peake, Chris Johnson

Speaker of the House Peter Slipper during Question Time at Parliament House Canberra on Thursday 16 February, 2012.

Speaker of the House Peter Slipper during Question Time at Parliament House Canberra on Thursday 16 February, 2012. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Speaker Peter Slipper will come under intense pressure to stand aside from private priestly duties when he is confronted by the Primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion, John Hepworth, about the scandal engulfing the government.

Archbishop Hepworth said last night he wanted to discuss in person with Mr Slipper the implications of the allegations of fraud and sexual harassment for the church.

''I suspect the meeting will not be until Sunday afternoon, because both Peter and his wife have flu,'' he told The Canberra Times.

Labor MPs are increasingly concerned that Mr Slipper has been set up to deliberately overshadow the budget.

Although they have no evidence to back this claim, they are suspicious about the timing of the row, which is already distracting the government in the lead-up to the budget, which Labor hopes will be seen as a shining achievement by predicting a surplus.

''This looks like a set up to me,'' a senior Labor figure said.

Archbishop Hepworth, the primate of the breakaway conservative Anglican movement, said the allegations had hurt the Queensland MP.

''Well, he's obviously quite shattered by this,'' he said.

Mr Slipper, who quit the Liberal Party late last year, stood aside as Speaker on Sunday pending inquiries into allegations he had misused taxpayer-funded Cabcharge dockets.

He also faces civil claims he sexually harassed a male adviser that are due to go before the Federal Court in Sydney next month.

He has strenuously denied all the allegations.

But while some government backbenchers are angry Mr Slipper could be allowed back into the Speaker's chair before the civil claim is resolved, others believe Prime Minister Julia Gillard has so far handled the situation well.

''Most of us think that while yes, Slipper might have some issues, that this little saga is not all it seems to be,'' one said.

''[Opposition Leader] Tony Abbott has over-reached in his criticism of Julia in this and I think that will all become evident.''

But another Labor MP said whatever the truth was, the incident was severely damaging the government.

And another Labor MP said many of his colleagues were discussing if the Liberal Party was behind the publicising of the claims against Mr Slipper.

''When Slipper first became Speaker, there was scuttlebutt that the Liberals were looking at every bit of dirt they could get on him,'' he said.

''It is suspicious that this happens as the budget was coming together and we are trying to make sure the budget is a plus for the government.''

A driver with Canberra Hire Cars, Berris Crossin, has told News Limited she had a deal with Mr Slipper regarding the use of his cab vouchers.

He would use four to six vouchers for a single trip so ''it didn't look as bad as one big fare'', Ms Crossin reportedly said.

Mr Slipper has responded all Cabcharges were ''completed correctly and were for travel within entitlement''.

Another contact at a hire car company that gets business from parliamentarians, speaking on the condition that neither they nor their company was identified, told The Canberra Times any such misuse of cab charges by MPs was not a common occurrence.

Labor backbenchers said they had never heard of parliamentarians using multiple cab charges to disguise the total cost of a trip.

Archbishop Hepworth said he was not disappointed by lack of action so far by Mr Slipper because of the agreement to hold the meeting.

''He will stand aside from the position of chancellor, it is a legal advisory position and I've had a text message saying he understands that's what I want. He will stand aside from that position until such time as both criminal and civil matters are resolved.

''If something that goes to the heart of his moral life is raised, then it's got to be cleared.

''So I expect both, that he stands aside from his positions within the church and the Parliament.''

Mr Slipper's spokeswoman did not respond to inquiries yesterday on whether he would agree to Archbishop Hepworth's demand to give up his ministry.

Mr Slipper argued on Twitter yesterday with people who disputed his claim that his vote had delivered the Liberal Party leadership to Mr Abbott, who won the ballot against Malcolm Turnbull by just one vote.

''My friend, check your maths! What does everyone think of your addition/subtraction? Only have been a draw if I had abstained,'' Mr Slipper wrote.

Later he tweeted: ''The allegations are denied and have been denied previously.''

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