Slipper elevation good for working families: PM
Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the decision to elevate Peter Slipper to the Speaker's position was a pragmatic move that had allowed the government to further its policy agenda, including assisting working families.
Ms Gillard's $83 million Anzac Centenary announcement this morning was overshadowed by further questions about the government's responsibility for Mr Slipper.
Ms Gillard said that appointing Mr Slipper as Speaker had meant the government was able to ''do some important things for working families".
She rejected as ''disgraceful'' suggestions by Opposition leader Tony Abbott that her government does not take sexual harassment in the workplace seriously.
"Of course every Australian should be able to go to their workplace and feel safe at work and every Australian should be treated decently in their workplace,'' she said.
This came as Mr Abbott and former Labor leader Mark Latham, found themselves in furious agreement in their assessment of Mr Slipper's character.
Writing in today's Australian Financial Review, Mr Latham said the Slipper deal, in tandem with the party's ongoing defence of embattled MP Craig Thomson, had ''eroded Labor's moral core''.
''Reformers must take the party out of the soiled hands of Thomson and Slipper and return it to the values of [former Labor prime ministers] Curtin and Chifley,'' he said.
He alleged Mr Slipper had long been one of the Parliament's least-respected figures whose ''clownish foibles'' were widely known
''He is one of the most egregious Good-Time Charlies to ever prance around the edges of Australian politics,'' Mr Latham said.
''The federal caucus has had a long-standing insight into Slipper's character.''
Mr Abbott continued to deny the Coalition should bear any responsibility for Mr Slipper, saying the party had been actively trying to ''deselect'' him from his Queensland coastal seat.
He said there had been question marks over Mr Slipper's use of his parliamentary entitlements for ''quite some time'' but added that ''I myself only became aware of the entitlement issue in the current term of Parliament,'' he said.
''Certainly there have been various Department of Finance investigations into Mr Slipper in the current Parliament, including when he was deputy speaker in 2011,'' he said.
Attorney-General Nicola Roxon has also defended the government's support for Mr Slipper - arguing he should be allowed to return to the speakership if he is cleared of the criminal charges, relating to his travel expenses – even if civil sexual harassment charges against him are not yet resolved.
But Ms Roxon said she has "no idea" who is paying Mr Slipper's legal expenses and that there is no plan for taxpayers to foot the bill.
"There are occasions where ministers are sued for their formal duties, and of course the Government then does meet those costs. I doubt that this would be one of those situations," Ms Roxon told the ABC's Lateline.
This comes as the Coalition called on the government to seek an indemnity against Mr Slipper for any liability.
Opposition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis told ABC Radio the government should ensure that taxpayers were not left to pay for Mr Slipper's legal bills or any damages if the civil claim succeeded.
''I think that if the Commonwealth were conducting itself in the way it ought to, it ought to be seeking an indemnity against Mr Slipper for any liability,'' Senator Brandis said.
Mr Slipper stood aside from the speakership at the weekend, due to allegations that he misused his Cabcharge entitlements. He is also facing claims that he sexually harassed his staffer, James Ashby.
Ms Slipper denies both sets of claims.