Slipper saga 'a new low for Parliament'
The Peter Slipper affair marks a "low point in the degradation" of the Federal Parliament, according to a former clerk of the Senate, as the government continues to back the embattled Speaker.
Harry Evans has launched a broadside against the Gillard government and the so-called "new paradigm" in a column in the Australian Financial Review today.
Mr Evans – who was Senate clerk from 1998 to 2009 – said that both major parties had been guilty of using the speakership as a place to reward MPs, buy them off or get them out of the way.
The former Clerk of the Senate, Harry Evans, says the Slipper affair is a new low. Photo: Andrew Meares
But today, Mr Evans called the Slipper affair – which includes his elevation to the speakership to boost the government's numbers last year and Mr Slipper standing aside due to allegations of illegality and impropriety at the weekend – a "low point in partisan politics" and a "low point in the degradation of the speakership and of the House".
Mr Evans also called the House of Representatives a "low-quality debating panel", adding that the speaker was "another government hack".
Former speaker Harry Jenkins - who was replaced by Mr Slipper - escaped Mr Evans' ire. But the 43rd Parliament, slated for major reforms in the wake of the 2010 election, was slammed for merely "tinkering around the edges".
"What is required is a change in the culture of the major parties and respect on their part for the speakership and the House as an institution," Mr Evans said.
Despite pressure on Mr Slipper to stay away from the speaker's chair until he is cleared of both criminal and civil charges, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy continued the government's public backing of Mr Slipper this morning.
"In a democracy, you're entitled to the presumption of innocence," Senator Conroy told Channel 9.
"There are some serious claims that have been made and they've got to go through the proper process."
The government has been arguing that Mr Slipper should only stand aside from the speakership while criminal allegations – that he misused his Cabcharge entitlements – are investigated.
This would open the way for Mr Slipper to resume his job on May 8, despite the fact that he faces sexual harassment allegations that are not due for a preliminary hearing until May 21.
The government's support for Mr Slipper was dealt a further blow yesterday, with independent MP Tony Windsor deciding that Mr Slipper should stand aside while all claims against him are heard.
The other independents, Rob Oakeshott and Andrew Wilkie, are also against Mr Slipper's return until he is cleared of all claims.
But there may be a solution for Labor on the horizon, with reports this morning that Liberal MP Patrick Secker – who last month lost preselection for his South Australian seat and has significant deputy speaker experience – would consider taking up the speaker's job.
This morning, Mr Windsor told Sky News that he would be happy if Mr Secker were made speaker, describing him as a decent person who with a good record on regional issues.
"I'd be more than comfortable," Mr Windsor said.
But Victorian Liberal MP Kelly O'Dwyer said the idea of Mr Secker as Speaker was speculation and he would not want to take a job from the Gillard government.
"I know Patrick Secker," she said. "He's a very honourable person."
"I'm sure that those reports are completely and utterly inaccurate."