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Speaker slips out, as new crossbencher sits tight

Date

Judith Ireland

Independent MP Craig Thomson remains seated top as coalition and Andrew Wilkie, left, rise to vote to suspend him from the house.

Independent MP Craig Thomson remains seated top as coalition and Andrew Wilkie, left, rise to vote to suspend him from the house. Photo: Andrew Meares

In the short months he has been in the speaker's chair, it is fair to say that Peter Slipper has made the role his own.

Flowing gown? Check. Dapper bowtie? Check. Sombre parliamentary processions? Check.

Unfortunately, when it came to political scandals, the member for Fisher has also been able to tick a resounding yes.

Ugly front page scandal? Check.

Yesterday was supposed to be the day when Slipper returned to that comfy speaker's seat, with the Cabcharge claims done and dealt with. Sure, the civil sexual harassment allegations may have been unresolved, but that was not going to hamper his ability to boom ''Order!'' with the sonorous command of the Pavarotti Police.

At least that was the plan until the Cabcharge thing failed to resolve itself quick smart, MPs of all stripes yelped about a premature Slipper return and Julia Gillard moved to shunt him indefinitely … until all the claims against him were sorted. So, yesterday, Slipper fronted the House. But instead of getting his Pavarotti on, he said a (temporary) goodbye.

There was crazy chatter around Parliament that Slipper would parade into the chamber, in his familiar ceremonial style, before he stood aside. But all of that came to an unprovocative naught.

When he addressed the House at 2pm, the member for Fisher was in his gown and a white tie (the Slipper equivalent of a suit) but that was as fanfare-y as it got.

With the prayers and acknowledgement of country over, Mr Slipper - his hands shaking, his voice steady - restated his innocence, lamented the ''trial by media'' culture and said he had more to do in the role. ''I look forward to completing what I have begun,'' he said.

With that, a slight bow and one helluva glare in Christopher Pyne's direction, Slipper gave himself the slip. He was gone.

It wasn't an ideal scenario, but one wonders if Craig Thomson wishes he could have done the same.

Instead, the member for Dobell made his debut on the crossbenches. As is his usual stone-faced style, Thomson either kept his eyes on his tablet device or stared fixedly in the middle distance. If I don't move, maybe no one will notice I'm in a different spot … Or that I'm even here at all. But the crossbench newbie did perk to attention when Pyne moved a motion to try and get him booted from the parliament for 14 days.

It wasn't successful, along with the Coalition's closer run shot at bringing back Harry Jenkins as Speaker.

But it did show that no matter which seat you have, there's no place to hide in the House.

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