Standing by Slipper sends the wrong message: Abbott
Julia Gillard's decision to stand by embattled parliamentary speaker Peter Slipper was sending the wrong message to sexual harassment victims, Opposition leader Tony Abbott says.
Almost one week after Mr Slipper stood aside pending a probe into allegations he misused taxpayer-funded taxi dockets and sexually harassed his male staffer, the government and the Coalition continue trading blows over the controversial MP.
Labor says if no criminal investigation is pending, Mr Slipper — who once worked in the Howard government — should be free to resume his position as speaker of the lower house.
But Mr Abbott, speaking at the Victorian Liberals' state council today, lashed out at the Prime Minister's judgment.
"The only person in this country who seems to think that Peter Slipper can go back into the speakership of the national parliament before sexual harassment allegations against him are resolved, is Julia Gillard," Mr Abbott said.
"And the message that she is sending to everyone in this country who might have been a victim is: you bring that claim forward, and I'll accuse you of being involved in a political conspiracy."
Mr Abbott also used the conference to talk up plans to crack down on union officials who break the law.
In a policy designed to capitalise on the Health Services Union scandal, the Coalition has pledged that if elected in next year's poll, union officials would face up to five years' imprisonment and $200,000 in fines for wrongdoing.
Under the current system, officials are only exposed to civil penalties, with fines of up to $2200. The proposed changes would mean union officials would be treated like company directors, with the same governance rules and penalties.
A new watchdog would also be created — the Registered Organisations Commission — to enforce the law, which is currently the job of the general manager of Fair Work Australia.
ACTU president Ged Kearney described the policy as a stunt designed by Mr Abbott to undermine unions in order to pursue a "radical workplace agenda".
But Mr Abbott disagreed, saying: "The business of unions ought to be protecting workers, not running protection rackets for former union bosses."
In other developments at today's state council meeting:
• Party delegates voted in favour of a motion calling on the federal opposition to make a policy commitment at the next election to fund a trial of National Disability Scheme in Victoria from 2014.
• Liberal state president Tony Snell revealed the Victorian branch had experienced its largest membership growth in two decades, with around 1000 new members signing up over the past two years.
• The party's state treasurer, Andrew Abercrombie, admitted it had been difficult raising funds for the party last year because of the time it took Ted Baillieu to release his fundraising code of conduct (MPs had been banned from fundraising events until the code was released).
Premier Ted Baillieu will address the state council tomorrow, in a speech that is expected to highlight how the government hopes to steer Victoria through economically challenging times.
With only days before Tuesday's state budget, Mr Baillieu was typically evasive when asked if the government would meet its target for an average surplus of $100 million.
"The parameters that we've set ourselves remain the same, but I'm not going to get into the details," he said.