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Des Moore

No let-up in leaders' poisonous debate

The Age October 11, 2012 Michelle Grattan

JULIA Gillard has said Australian women have had enough of Tony Abbott's sexism, as the Opposition Leader indicated he will not be stopped from muscling up to the Prime Minister by the gender debate.

As the extraordinary and poisonous argument over misogyny continued in the wake of Peter Slipper's resignation as Speaker, Mr Abbott said: ''Just because the Prime Minister has sometimes been the victim of unfair criticism doesn't mean that she can dismiss any criticism as sexism.''

Both sides are watching what difference Mr Slipper will make now that he is voting again.

Mr Abbott said the Coalition would accept the vote of Mr Slipper when he chose to support it - despite his repeated calls for the government to reject Craig Thomson's ''tainted'' vote.

''There's a fundamental difference between Peter Slipper and Craig Thomson,'' Mr Abbott said. ''Craig Thomson has been found by a quasi-judicial body to have misappropriated some half-a-million dollars in low-paid union members' money.'' How Mr Slipper voted was up to him ''but if he chooses to vote with the Coalition, we certainly will be happy to have that vote''.

The government now needs five of the seven on the crossbench, where Mr Slipper and Mr Thomson both sit, to pass legislation.

Leader of the House Anthony Albanese said the numbers would not be more difficult than they were at the beginning of this Parliament.

Ms Gillard defended her backing of Mr Slipper as Speaker in Tuesday's debate, saying: ''I didn't believe the Parliament should be a kangaroo court.''

She told reporters she had made Tuesday's speech - in which she excoriated Mr Abbott's alleged sexism - because she formed the view, enough is enough.

''I've had enough. Australian women have had enough. When I see sexism and misogyny, I'm going to call them for what they are.''

Earlier, Mr Abbott accused the government of trying to put criticism of the PM off limits.

''Well, when she does wrong, as she did yesterday by leading the Peter Slipper defence team, she will be criticised,'' he said.

Ms Gillard's attack on Mr Abbott received wide international coverage, much of it favourable, including in the US, Britain, Canada and South Africa.

In his first vote after quitting, Mr Slipper supported the government on a procedural motion about the position of the Deputy Speaker.

Mr Slipper survived Tuesday's parliamentary motion to remove him, but two country independents, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, who voted against his removal by the House, made it clear to him privately that he should resign.

Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop accused Labor and the independents of ''another grubby political deal''. ''The independents agreed to support the government in the House in return for Peter Slipper's resignation after the vote,'' she said, suggesting this was like Ms Gillard's grubby deal to install Mr Slipper as Speaker.

Mr Windsor said he and Mr Oakeshott had suggested to Mr Slipper that ''maybe the proper thing to do was that he consider resigning''.

Mr Oakeshott said he had thought for a long time that Mr Slipper should resign. On Tuesday, ''that point was made to him personally''.

Mr Albanese said he had had a number of conversations with Mr Slipper on Tuesday, but would not reveal the content.

''I was obviously concerned with him as a human being,'' he said. ''Anyone who looks at the footage of the Parliament last night would see that this is a human being who is under an enormous amount of pressure.''

While ministers defended Ms Gillard for standing by Mr Slipper, they also said they were glad he had resigned. Mr Albanese said Mr Slipper had ''determined to put the interests of the Parliament before his self-interest and I think it was a courageous decision''.

Finance Minister Penny Wong said Mr Slipper had ''done the right thing in standing down. His remarks were clearly offensive … he's had the decency to do a couple of things Tony Abbott has failed to do, and that is apologise for his sexist comments and take responsibility for them by resigning.''

Prime Minister Julia Gillard is a woman of no principle

Andrew Bolt, Herald Sun, October 11, 2012

THE tragedy of Julia Gillard is that she has once more betrayed principle for power, and will lose both.
That shame is not the Prime Minister's alone.
She has dragged Labor with her, even forcing every female Labor MP on Tuesday to vote for a Speaker each knew was a misogynist who had disgraced his office.
This latest example of Gillard's catastrophic lack of judgment stems from her decision last year to strip the Speaker's job from honourable Harry Jenkins and give it to the disreputable Peter Slipper.
Appointing Slipper, as I said at the time, shamed Parliament.
It confirmed Gillard's reputation for untrustworthiness.
And it would blow up in her face.
Slipper was already being investigated again - over his outrageous expenses, which included billing taxpayers for late-night trips to suburbs more famous for strip clubs and the like than for anything that could be called parliamentary business.
It is characteristic of Gillard's shambolic leadership that she appointed Slipper to protect herself from the fall-out from another piece of trickery.
Moreover, rumours of private indiscipline were already so strong that Queensland's Liberal National Party was about to dump him as a candidate.
But Gillard could not resist the temptation to give this LNP cast-off the Speaker's job to win one more vote for her minority Government.
Power above principle.
Moreover, it is characteristic of Gillard's shambolic leadership that she appointed Slipper to protect herself from the fall-out from another piece of trickery.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie was about to learn Gillard had conned him when she promised to back his push for tough controls on poker machines in exchange for making her Prime Minister.
Gillard feared he'd be so angry that he'd vote to bring down her Government, and she wanted another vote for insurance.
Given this pattern of unprincipled grasping for power there could properly be only one reaction to Slipper's elevation to the most morally significant post in Parliament.
Yet the Canberra press pack, which has been the wind beneath Gillard's tatty wings, praised it almost with one voice.
Channel 9's Laurie Oakes, for instance, declared: "That gives Gillard a chance to try to build respect, notch up some achievements and claw back support."
It was like the praise heaped on Gillard by the elite media for ramming through a carbon tax she'd promised never to impose - another betrayal of principle for power.
Now, however, Gillard's masterstroke has robbed the Government of both political and moral authority.
Slipper already had to stand aside as police investigated his expenses and a staffer sued him for alleged sexual harassment.

Then came coarse emails he sent that gay staffer, which showed him not only asking repeatedly about the man's sex life but likening women's genitalia to shellfish in language too crude to repeat.
For a year Gillard has tried to cling to office by smearing Opposition Leader Tony Abbott as a sexist.
Yet, confronted now with the real deal in Slipper, she ordered Labor on Tuesday to vote to save him from an Opposition move to sack him.
Power is this woman's true passion.
Principle can go hang.

THIS time much of the media has seen through Gillard, and even Slipper - after Gillard saved his job by a single vote - admitted what the Prime Minister would not: "I do understand the arguments of those who argued against me."
He then quit, meaning Gillard had lost both her Speaker and her reputation.

Even Gillard's speech to defend Slipper - praised by many on the Left - confirmed the moral emptiness of her prime ministership.
That defence was based almost entirely on vilifying Opposition Leader Tony Abbott as a "misogynist" himself - a ludicrous non-sequitur. Moreover, the examples Gillard chose were pathetic - Abbott had looked at his watch as she spoke, he'd disapproved of abortion, he'd stood (unwittingly) near a protester's "ditch the witch" sign, he'd called on her to be an honest woman and he'd wondered 14 years ago if the preponderance of men in power reflected some innate drive.
This desperation searching for offence betrays all women in authority. It makes them seem dangerously sensitive, and reduces the feminist crusade to a gotcha scrabble for personal advantage.
Gillard even pounced on an unfortunate turn of phrase by Abbott on Tuesday - his familiar catch-cry the Government was "dying of shame".
"My father did not die of shame," shouted Gillard, deceitfully conflating Abbott's innocent remark, made more than a dozen times before, with that of broadcaster Alan Jones, who had indeed wrongly claimed Gillard's father died of shame.
Once again, Gillard reached for anything - the gender card, the victim card, a gotcha, even the death of her father to claw for advantage.
Power over principle.
Smear over reason.
Advantage over honour.
Julia Gillard, Prime Minister.

Peter Slipper defence failed, Tony Abbott attack escalates

SID MAHER, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, The Australian, October 11, 2012

JULIA Gillard's judgment and authority are again under attack from within her government after independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott took the initiative in forcing Peter Slipper to resign, leaving Labor as the Speaker's last defender.

As Labor continued its gender war against Tony Abbott yesterday, supporters of Kevin Rudd questioned the Prime Minister's original appointment of Mr Slipper as Speaker in November and the government's decision on Tuesday to expend political capital fighting an opposition motion to dump him when it was clear his position had been rendered untenable by a series of lurid texts that demeaned women.

But Gillard supporters pointed to international praise for her speech to parliament on Tuesday, in which she denounced the Opposition Leader as sexist and misogynist, from websites of such publications as The New Yorker, the New Statesman and London's The Daily Telegraph.

Ms Gillard said yesterday she made her speech "because I formed the view enough is enough. I have had enough. Australian women have had enough.

"When I see sexism and misogyny, I am going to call them for what they are."

The Prime Minister said she had fought the opposition motion to dump Mr Slipper as Speaker because "I didn't believe the parliament should be a kangaroo court".

The motion was defeated 70 votes to 69, with Mr Oakeshott and Mr Windsor siding with the government.

However, the two independents had already convinced Mr Slipper to stand down.

Several hours after all Labor MPs had voted to defeat the motion, Mr Slipper, who was lured from the Liberal National Party by Labor to become Speaker, returned to parliament to tender his resignation.

One senior strategist said yesterday the Prime Minister emerged "from this stronger. Who was the last prime minister of Australia whose performance in the parliament went viral globally?"

However, there was concern among some Labor strategists about how the sexism attack would be viewed by men, particularly the blue-collar workers in the suburbs who will be crucial to Labor's chances at the next election. There was also a concern that the affair would again feed into doubts about the trust and integrity of the government.

As Families Minister Jenny Macklin said she believed Mr Abbott was a misogynist, the Opposition Leader accused Labor of overplaying the gender card.

"Alas, we have a government which plays the class-war card when it gets in to trouble and when it doesn't play the class-war card, tends to play the gender card to try to deflect what is legitimate criticism," Mr Abbott said.

Later he said: "We are a place where opposition leaders, prime ministers, ministers and shadow ministers should be judged on their record, should be judged on their deeds, not on their gender and, frankly, as the father of three daughters I want them to be judged on what they do. I do not want them to be judged favourably or unfavourably on the basis of their gender and I think it's time that everyone in the parliament moved on from this gender card which so many members of the government have been playing."

Mr Abbott indicated he would be prepared to accept Mr Slipper's vote from the crossbenches despite the opposition having moved to have him dumped as Speaker. He differentiated him from former Labor MP Craig Thomson, saying Mr Thomson had been forced to the crossbenches over allegations he misused Health Services Union funds. Mr Thomson denies wrongdoing.

Mr Slipper's resignation came after Mr Oakeshott and Mr Windsor told him ahead of the opposition motion in parliament that his position was untenable after the release of text messages to his former staffer James Ashby that were highly offensive to women.

The independents met Mr Slipper again after the motion was launched and as the debate -- in which the Prime Minister defended him with her attack on Mr Abbott -- was in progress. The independents insisted Mr Slipper resign by the end of the day but agreed to vote with the government to defeat the motion after Mr Slipper asked for the opportunity to make a dignified exit. The leader of government business in the house, Anthony Albanese, met them towards the end of the meeting and was aware of Mr Slipper's intention to resign before the vote was taken. But this was after the government had begun to oppose the motion and started its attack on Mr Abbott.

Mr Oakeshott said he hoped the appointment of Labor's Anna Burke as Speaker would be a circuit-breaker and that she and new deputy Bruce Scott, from the Nationals, could "lift the standards of the parliament and regain the faith of the Australian community in the people's chamber".

Ms Macklin said Labor's decision to oppose the Coalition motion to remove Mr Slipper was not a defence of his texts. The motion was a political ploy.

Additional reporting: Ben Packham

Labor continues with strategy of delusion

Dennis Shanahan, Political editor, The Australian October 11, 2012

THE Gillard government just doesn't get it. Federal Labor's political strategy is delusional and misdirected.

The shrill and strident execution of this delusional political strategy over misogyny, sexism and Peter Slipper's resignation is backfiring badly.

In the middle of a strategy to draw on Julia Gillard's place as Australia's first female prime minister - and while unleashing a gender war against Tony Abbott - the entire Labor government lined up to defend the Speaker long after his position was untenable.

Without a strategy to deal with the public and political outrage over Slipper's degrading and insulting attitudes to women, Labor was left defending gross behaviour that was feeding general frustration with petty and personal politics.

Slipper himself got it; the independent MPs Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Andrew Wilkie all got it; the media got it; and the public, most of all, got it. The Speaker had to go and defending him was nothing more than double standards.

It was Abbott who brought on the motion to remove Slipper immediately; it was Windsor and Oakeshott who went to Slipper to tell him his time was up; and it was the Speaker who realised the jig was up and went with as much dignity as he could muster.

Yet yesterday Gillard and Tanya Plibersek, Penny Wong, Jenny Macklin and Anthony Albanese stuck to their lines as they tried to fend off widespread and legitimate claims that they were the hypocrites launching a gender war with double standards.

Macklin said it was "true" that Abbott - a father of three daughters - "hates" women and girls. Plibersek said he used the same language as Slipper. And Wong said he should resign like Slipper for his sexist remarks.

Gillard shifted from the role of Prime Minister to become a leader of all Australian women, saying women had "had enough" of misogyny and sexism while her strategists lauded the "viral" coverage of her feisty offensive.

But the whole shemozzle suggested Labor was more interested in running feminist lines than looking after the interests of single mums, addressing the concerns of those consumed by Twitter campaigns rather than the price-pressured families of the outer suburbs, and destroying Abbott instead of concentrating on governing.

How Labor MPs were left hanging in vote for Peter Slipper

Niki Savva , The Australian , October 11, 2012

THE question angry Labor MPs were asking themselves yesterday is why their Prime Minister put them through the wringer to vote in support of a man for whom they have little or no respect, only to have him resign within a matter of hours.

The answer lies with the independents, who actually acted independently because they found the situation untenable.

Tony Windsor went to see Peter Slipper at 1pm on Tuesday. Disturbed by the contents of Slipper's text messages, released as part of the Speaker's sexual harassment case before the Federal Court, Windsor wanted to check their veracity, and to convey his concerns directly to him.

Windsor told Slipper he did not know what would happen in the House of Representatives, due to meet in less than an hour, but told the Speaker he should consider resigning. The meeting was interrupted by an official delegation, and Windsor left.

Shortly after 2pm - after Tony Abbott moved his no-confidence motion against the Speaker on the floor of the House of Representatives, while the Opposition Leader was still on his feet, and before the Prime Minister made her extraordinary speech - Windsor got together with his fellow independent Rob Oakeshott. They discussed what to do and set off for the Speaker's Parliament House suite.

Oakeshott had always had reservations, but Windsor had been prepared, right up until Slipper confirmed the texts were genuine, to give him the benefit of the doubt.

They were sympathetic to his plight. Windsor's concern was the reputation of the parliament and Slipper's wellbeing, so it was a matter of convincing Slipper to go, and to give him an opportunity to do it himself, without having parliament act as judge and jury.

By the time they got to Slipper's office, the Prime Minister was on her feet opposing Abbott's motion and accusing the Opposition Leader of bringing sexism and misogyny into the parliament.

The two independents spent an hour with Slipper before the Leader of the House, Labor minister Anthony Albanese, arrived. Their deal with Slipper was that they would not support the Abbott motion if, in return, Slipper agreed to resign.

They wanted to give Slipper some time to consider, but not more than a few hours. He wanted more but they insisted it had to be the same day, telling him he could not sleep on it. Slipper, distressed and agitated, worried about the impact on his friends and family - then reluctantly agreed.

While Labor MP Mark Dreyfus was speaking in support of the Prime Minister in parliament, Albanese arrived to see the two independents with Slipper in his suite. By the time Albanese spoke to Slipper, the independents had already brokered the deal.

Windsor and Oakeshott told Albanese of their agreement with the Speaker, and they left him to his private conversation with Slipper.

Albanese was between a rock and a hard place. He knew what the vote on the Abbott motion would be. And he knew what to expect after the vote was taken.

It was too late for Albanese to stop it or change it. Gillard had already locked the government in to backing, rather than sacking, Slipper. If Albanese at that late stage had tried to scuttle it, the independents would have been left with little choice but to vote for Abbott's motion - if not that day then the next.

In retrospect, the outcome and those optics would have been better for the government and for Gillard if Abbott's motion had succeeded. In the end, it was defeated 70-69, with Oakeshott, Windsor and Greens MP Adam Bandt backing the government as fellow independents Andrew Wilkie and Tony Crook sided with the Coalition.

After Slipper made his emotional resignation speech to parliament several hours later, between 15 and 20 MPs, including Windsor, Oakeshott and Liberal MP and doctor Mal Washer gathered in the Speaker's suite. They wanted to make sure he was all right. Months ago, Washer had expressed concerns about Labor-turned-crossbench MP Craig Thomson's mental state and how his family was faring. He felt the same about Slipper and his family.

Slipper worried out loud he had performed badly. They assured him he had done well and they also reassured him he had done the right thing for himself, for the parliament and for his family.

Clearly, and despite suspicions to the contrary, Windsor and Oakeshott were not acting as stalking horses for the government to try to broker a resolution.

Yesterday, Labor MPs were shaking their heads wondering why they had to vote to support Slipper, only to have him pull the plug and leave them all, especially the Prime Minister, looking stupid and hypocritical.

The answer is because Gillard and her brains trust were preoccupied with trying to blame Abbott for everything. They ran the gender war from the wrong side and were badly caught out.

The other critical question they will be asking is whether Tuesday's debacle could have been avoided. The answer is yes, if Gillard had been as wily as Windsor and as alert to the dangers of continuing to support her terminally damaged Speaker.

Labor had Slipper texts for months

AFR, October 11, Pamela Williams Editor-at-large

Ashby v SlipperSolicitors for the federal government viewed thousands of text messages more than four months ago that were sent by former speaker Peter Slipper, including explosive texts laced with sordid references to female genitals, and others showing a pressing interest in the sex life of his aide James Ashby.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon last night refused to say when she learned of the contents of the text messages, which cost Mr Slipper his job.

As Australia’s political debate over sexism and misogyny was reported around the world, Coalition Leader Tony Abbott signalled he wanted to move forward to concentrate on areas of policy concerning voters, including cost-of-living pressures.

In Parliament, Mr Slipper sat on the crossbenches near Craig Thomson, the former Labor MP, voted with the government and sent messages from his mobile phone.

Spreadsheet sent on May 28

A large spreadsheet of text messages on Mr Ashby’s phone was sent by his lawyers on May 28 to the Australian Government Solicitor and to lawyers defending Mr Slipper against the sexual harassment case brought by Mr Ashby.

Some of the texts were used to underpin actions by both Mr Slipper and the government to have Mr Ashby’s allegations thrown out as an abuse of process. This was settled two weeks ago between the government and Mr Ashby. The court case between Mr Ashby and Mr Slipper is continuing, with a judge reserving his decision.

Asked when she was made aware of the former speaker’s text messages, a spokesperson for Ms Roxon said last night the government’s legal advice and preparation was under legal professional privilege and was confidential.

“The Attorney-General will not provide a commentary on this legal advice,” she said. “These messages were read to the Federal Court last week and the documents were released on Monday.”

As the first lawyer in the land, it is normal practice for the Attorney-General to brief counsel on major cases involving the federal government. Given the publicity attached to the Ashby case, and the action against the government claiming it failed to provide a safe workplace for an employee of the speaker, it would seem likely Ms Roxon would have oversight.

Mr Slipper bowed to pressure on Tuesday over his texting and resigned as speaker – not long after the government, the Greens and key independents furiously defended him from the opposition’s efforts to have him removed as speaker on the basis of miso­gyny. Ms Roxon said Mr Slipper had apologised and resigned.

A spreadsheet showing all text messages extracted from Mr Ashby’s iPhone was created by IT forensic expert Rod McKemmish of PPB Advisory, in April. The spreadsheet, commissioned by Mr Ashby’s lawyers, was forwarded to solicitors for the government and to Mr Slipper.

Documents on the Federal Court website indicate that government lawyers have been aware of Mr Slipper’s attitudes to women, as evidenced in the sometimes obscene texts, since May.

One message from Mr Slipper to Mr Ashby describes female organs as looking like shell-less mussels; another suggests purchasing a bottle of mussels at a fish shop: “salty c---s in brine”.

Slipper Pressured Ashby for details of his sex life

Other messages pressure Mr Ashby for details of whether he has slept with a boyfriend. Text messages show Mr Ashby deflecting these inquiries. All of the messages have been in the hands of government lawyers for the duration of the court action alleging abuse of process by Mr Ashby in first bringing his sexual harassment case.

The crudest of the text messages first came to public notice when they were read aloud in the Federal Court last Thursday by Ashby’s barrister Michael Lee SC, during a hearing presided over by Justice Steven Rares in the abuse of process case.

The rest of the text messages from Mr Ashby’s phone were attached to an affidavit submitted in evidence that same day by his lawyers. They were released publicly on the Court’s website three days ago, on Monday afternoon. Just over 24 hours later Mr Slipper quit in a barrage of publicity. But with the Commonwealth having been in possession of the text messages since late May, it seems likely the federal government knew they would eventually become public.

Ms Roxon’s office did not respond to Financial Review questions yesterday as to what date the Attorney-General was made aware of the text message spreadsheet, nor whether she was aware of them when the Commonwealth submitted a document to the court referring to Mr McKemmish’s affidavit in June.

Not Commenting

She did not reply to questions on whether she had read the text messages before the Commonwealth started its abuse of process action. She did not respond to questions as to whether any other member of the federal government might have read the text messages, including Mr Slipper’s gross references to women, in the months before the court released them last week.

Two weeks ago, the Commonwealth suddenly settled its own action with Mr Ashby, on September 28, agreeing to pay him $50,000 and to implement training in sexual harassment awareness for MPs. Afterwards, Ms Roxon again declared that Mr Ashby’s claim was vexatious.

The 200 pages of text messages were extracted from Mr Ashby’s phone last April by Mr McKimmish, the national head of PPB Advisory’s IT forensics group.

Mr McKimmish previously spent more than a decade with KPMG’s forensics group and before that, 13 years with the Victorian and Queensland police specialising in forensic IT for a computer crimes squad. He said yesterday he was unable to comment on the Ashby case.

PPB was hired by Mr Ashby’s lawyers, Harmers Workplace Lawyers, to forensically examine the contents of Mr Ashby’s phone to assess the veracity of this potentially explosive new client. The phone was downloaded and all texts catalogued in a spreadsheet. According to documents filed in the Federal Court in June and available on the court’s website, Mr McKemmish signed an affidavit on April 24.

After Mr Ashby brought his sexual harassment case on April 20, lawyers for the then Speaker alleged that he had been set up. They warned they might seek to have the case thrown out as an abuse of process. Newspaper reports in April said Mr Ashby’s phone had been forensically examined to ensure the messages were genuine and that Mr Ashby had kept all texts.

On May 28, a spreadsheet comprising all of Mr Ashby’s texts was sent by Harmers to both the AGS for the Commonwealth, and Maurice Blackburn, at that time Mr Slipper’s lawyers.

The Australian Financial Review

Parliamentís ugly fight will get uglier still

AFR 11 Oct 2012, Geoff Kitney

Peter Slipper slipped quietly and almost unnoticed into parliamentary question time yesterday, stayed a while and slipped out again.

Apart from a brief exchange of greetings with members of a departing delegation of Laotian MPs, he spoke to no one and no one spoke to him.

A day is a long time in politics.

On Tuesday, the battle over Slipper’s fate was as furious and bitter as any there has been on the floor of the Parliament over a single individual.

The noise echoed around the world, with reports of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s emotional and angry attack on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott making international news.

Some of Gillard’s supporters kidded themselves that this meant she had delivered a great speech in her unrestrained attack on Abbott.

It was certainly a notable speech. But it was also a bad speech.

Gillard’s attack on Abbott failed to disguise the immensity of her misjudgment over Slipper. A misjudgment, compounded by the fact that it was Slipper who finally did the right thing and quit after Gillard had backed him to stay.

There were echoes of the previous days, even though not a single reference was made to Slipper.

Opposition business manager Christopher Pyne, on several occasions, ostentatiously pointed out what he said were “sexist references” from government ministers.

At one point, he complained loudly that a government MP had referred to Abbott as a “bloke”. It was a sexist label equivalent to him referring to a female on the government side as a “sheila” and should be withdrawn.

“Ah, sit down you sheila,” veteran Labor MP Daryl Melham called out to Pyne.

He was not asked for this to be withdrawn.

A short time later Pyne was thrown out of the house by new Speaker Anna Burke for disorderly conduct, her first act to assert her authority in her new role.

There was also more evidence of the deepening bitterness between Gillard and Abbott, revealed when Gillard angrily demanded that Abbott withdraw (which he did) a sotto voce remark to her that she was “a piece of work” after she accused him of continuing his campaign of “negativity and distortion” over the carbon tax.

The breakdown in civility between the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader is the starkest evidence of the extreme strains that the battle for advantage in the hung Parliament has led to.

With a long way to run before the next election, this is a fight which is only likely to get uglier.

This is especially so because of the even more precarious balance on the floor of the Parliament.

The balance of power is now in the hands of the self-exiled Slipper who is sitting on the cross benches alongside exiled Labor MP Craig Thomson. The unpredictability and potential unsustainability of the numbers is now a Labor nightmare.

The folly for Gillard of the whole Slipper affair, starting with the dirty deal that was done to put him into the speakership to secure one extra vote for Labor on the floor of the Parliament, was there for all to see when Slipper took his place in the back row of the cross benches.

In a couple of unimportant votes on Wednesday, Slipper sided with the Labor Party.

But he is such a political maverick – and now a potentially embittered one – who can be sure how he will vote in the big, critical matters?

The government’s best hope is that Slipper, regardless of his notoriety and the wishes of his local constituents, will want to hang onto the perks of being an MP for as long as possible and not vote for anything that might bring the government down.

For all the drama of Tuesday and the potential fallout from it, yesterday was one of the quieter days in Parliament.

Both sides resumed their default tactics, Abbott returning to what Gillard said was his “siren song” on the evils of the carbon tax and the government trying to sell the case for its management of the economy.

A brief detour by the government to highlight divisions in the Coalition over wheat marketing deregulation created the most noise, at one point resulting in a National Party MP being suspended from the House.

Judgment about what Tuesday’s drama means will be passed by the next round of opinion polls.

The Australian Financial Review

Labor not assured of Slipperís vote

AFR October 11,Fleur Anderson

Peter Slipper will take a pay cut of about twice the average wage and will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in superannuation as a result of his resignation as speaker.

But government ministers hope the disgraced MP will still back Labor’s landmark policies on education, disability and dental care, despite Mr Slipper’s varied loyalties over his 28-year political career.

The demotion to backbencher will take Mr Slipper’s pay from $333,462 a year to $190,550 a year.

The pay cut is also expected to affect his parliamentary pension, which is based on a politician’s salary at the time they leave Parliament.

Mr Slipper on Wednesday backed the federal government in his first vote as an independent MP.

Sitting on the crossbenches behind former Labor MP Craig Thomson, he supported a Labor move to change the procedure for electing a second deputy speaker.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said Mr Slipper could be a volatile factor in future votes but his local constituents would still expect him to vote with the Coalition.

“Certainly he was elected as a Coalition member, his electorate would expect him to vote with the Coalition,” Mr Abbott told Sydney’s 2UE radio.

“I think he will be highly unpredictable on the crossbenches.”

But senior Labor MPs believe the former speaker will not vote with the Coalition to block government bills because of the Coalition’s efforts to discredit him after he defected last year.

Over his political career, Mr Slipper has voted along party lines, first as a National Party representative from 1984 to 1987, then as a Liberal MP from 1993.

When he was lured from the Coalition to become an independent and to take the role of speaker last November, Mr Slipper adopted the parliamentary protocol of only casting a deciding vote if it continued debate or maintained the status quo.

It is a rule of thumb frequently cited by other crossbenchers when voting on matters of parliamentary procedure.

On occasion, his independent colleagues have voted with the Coalition to continue debate and it is a model Mr Slipper may continue.

It is unlikely Mr Slipper will join the Coalition in voting for a motion of no confidence against the government because it would trigger an election and possibly the loss of his own seat.

His conflict over which way to vote on the government’s new $4 billion dental care scheme was eased on Wednesday after the Coalition made it clear it would not oppose Labor’s legislation.

The government plans to replace the Howard-era chronic disease dental scheme with a six-year program that will start by providing care to children and expand to cover adults on low incomes.

However, there are likely to be awkward moments ahead for the new backbencher.

Federal Parliament is expected to debate a bill in coming months to impose a code of conduct on MPs. It is being pushed by independent MP Rob Oakeshott.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has already thrown her weight behind a code, which includes that a member must not break the law, must use resources economically, must respect the privacy of others, and “at all times act honestly, [and] strive to maintain the public trust” placed in the member.

The Australian Financial Review

Spotlight to turn back to Thomson

AFR 11 Oct 2012, Mark Skulley

Controversy is set to resume over key independent MP Craig Thomson as Fair Work Australia prepares civil charges alleging breaches of workplace law during his time as national secretary of the Health Services Union.

Followers of the HSU investigations expect that Fair Work will lodge the charges with the Federal Court before senior officials appear for questioning at a Senate estimates hearing next week.

Fair Work has pressed ahead with the charges despite an external review by KPMG that blasted the conduct of Fair Work Australia’s long-running investigations into two sections of the union.

Mr Thomson, who holds the NSW seat of Dobell, has argued that the KPMG report discredited Fair Work’s finding that he had allegedly committed more than 150 breaches of rules covering union administration and other matters.

His role in Parliament has taken on renewed importance after the resignation this week of former Liberal MP Peter Slipper as speaker.

The civil charges against Mr Thomson would not disqualify him from Parliament and might not go to trial until after the federal election expected in the second half of 2013.

However, Mr Thomson’s role at the HSU, which ended in late 2007 when he entered Parliament, is still being examined as part of broad-ranging inquiries into the union’s finances by the NSW and Victoria police. Last week NSW police charged the former secretary of HSU’s East branch, Michael Williamson, with more than 20 alleged criminal offences, including interfering in a fraud squad investigation and instructing others to destroy evidence. Mr Thomson has argued that the charges against Mr Williamson related to events that occurred years after he left the union.

But the head of the NSW fraud and cybercrime squad, detective superintendent Colin Dyson, has said police “have not eliminated any person of interest” so far.

NSW police have been investigating allegations that Mr Williamson and Mr Thomson were supplied with American Express credit cards by a printer in return for an inflated contract to print the union’s newsletter. Mr Thomson said yesterday the print contract allegations related to when he was the union’s industrial officer.

“I’ve never had any financial responsibility or anything to do with the HSU East or its predecessor union [the NSW branch].”

The NSW police inquiry is expected to run until nearly the end of this year. A separate inquiry by the Victorian police might spill over into 2013. After legal changes, Fair Work has disclosed information on the Victorian inquiry into the union’s national office. Three former officials of the HSU’s main Victorian branch – Pauline Fegan, Jeff Jackson and Shaun Hudson – have admitted alleged breaches of workplace laws, but a penalty hearing has yet to be held.

The Australian Financial Review

This desperate cling to power

AFR Editorial 11 Oct 2012

The Labor government’s dirty deal late last year to install the Coalition turncoat Peter Slipper as Speaker of the House of Representatives has been undone by dirty text messages. Desperate to cling to power, Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s minority government is bringing out the worst of Australia’s political culture rather than the best. Both sides of politics have been guilty of bad behaviour that is undermining the whole purpose of government and distracting national attention from the serious issues at hand such as the waning of Australia’s mining boom, the need to revive productivity growth and the federal budget’s stubborn structural deficit.

Ms Gillard installed Mr Slipper in the Speaker’s chair in late 2011 after the government dudded independent MP Andrew Wilkie on promised poker machine reforms, which threatened to remove one vote from Labor’s already wafer-thin majority.

Negotiation is widely agreed to be one of the Prime Minister’s strengths but the Slipper deal confirmed, following her ­carbon tax reversal, that Ms Gillard is also prepared to ruthlessly break promises to stay in office.

The Australian Financial Review condemned Labor’s decision to squeeze out a competent Speaker in Harry Jenkins in order to anoint Mr Slipper, describing it as “a gamble driven by desperation and expediency”. We warned that Labor’s controversial move would inject more poison into the political debate, and that elevating a dubious character whose own side of politics was trying to get rid of was bound to end in tears. The decision treated our nation’s parliamentary standards with contempt, again calling into question the credibility of her government and her judgment.

The political misjudgment was exposed by the legal action brought by ex-staffer James Ashby against his former boss, Mr Slipper, over alleged Cabcharge rorting and sexual harassment. In line with its political interests, Labor treated this as a partisan conspiracy, with Attorney-General Nicola Roxon paying up $50,000 to try to make the problem go away.

But it has turned out that the unresolved taxi rorting claims and sexual harassment allegations were not what brought Mr Slipper down, but private text messages he sent to his former staffer.

Those messages re­leased by the Federal Court this week were ribald, crude and ­sometimes obscene. Whether, of themselves, they would be grounds for dismissal of a speaker is debatable. The political problem is they clash with Labor’s political narrative that Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has a “problem’’ with strong women or is even a misogynist.

Mr Abbott is a mainstream Catholic who is opposed to abortion and who talks in the language of everyday Australians, rather than the language and social culture of Labor progressives. But that doesn’t make him a misogynist. Some Labor MPs who share Mr Abbott’s cultural outlook constitute key parts of Ms Gillard’s support base as Prime Minister. Ms Gillard herself represents this culture with her refusal to back gay marriage. But that does not make her homophobic.

The Prime Minister’s examples of sexism or even misogyny against Mr Abbott have not been persuasive and Labor’s charges that he has a problem with strong women are confected. Labor’s attacks are in part provoked by the nature of the personal abuse that has been levelled at Ms Gillard. But Labor has also overplayed this. Politicians receive personal abuse and female politicians will receive abuse couched in female terms, however unpleasant that may be.

Some attacks certainly go right over the top, such as the disgusting and plainly wrong remarks that radio broadcaster Alan Jones made about last month’s death of the Prime Minister’s father. Mr Abbott should have been stronger in condemning these remarks, even if he was not responsible for them. Mr Abbott was also wrong to goad Ms Gillard in Parliament on Tuesday when he said the government “should already have died of shame”, a phrase that echoed Mr Jones’s words.

Yet, the Opposition Leader would probably be happy to fight a culture war on “sexism”, notwithstanding his low support rating with female voters. Ms Gillard’s rating deficit with male voters is even worse. And Labor’s attacks provoked Mr Abbott last week to bring out his wife, Margie, to display his credentials as a family man and husband who is comfortable with women. Labor misjudged John Howard’s ability to resonate with working families when it ridiculed his white picket fence motif. Mr Abbott will likely reckon that, while Australians are a tolerant people who support a “fair go’’, they may recoil from Ms Gillard’s extreme accusations against him, particularly when she continued to defend Mr Slipper.

This unseemly episode is likely to turn voters away from debate and lower their opinions of both sides of politics. Many will increasingly figure that the only way to end this failed experiment with minority government will be through fresh elections to give one side proper authority to govern.

The Australian Financial Review

Kevin Rudd backers slam Prime Minister Julia Gillard over Peter Slipper

Phillip Hudson, Herald Sun,October 10, 2012

JULIA Gillard's critics inside the Labor Party have seized on the Peter Slipper scandal to reignite their attack on the Prime Minister's judgment and leadership.

While Ms Gillard still comfortably has the numbers to remain PM, some MPs have stepped up efforts to urge others to switch their support to Kevin Rudd before the election.

"This has been a fiasco for the Government," said one MP, who voted for Mr Rudd in his failed leadership bid in February.

In another twist in a toxic parliamentary week, it has emerged Coalition frontbencher Mathias Cormann tried to secretly secure the support of disgraced Labor MP Craig Thomson, in a damaging blow to Tony Abbott's credibility after his vow to never take his "tainted vote".

It was also revealed yesterday that Mr Slipper's dramatic resignation from the $1000-a-day post of Speaker on Tuesday night was forced by an ultimatum from independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor.

They met Mr Slipper in his office for an hour while the Parliament debated a no confidence motion, and gave him "two choices" - to either make a "dignified resignation" before the end of the day or have them support a vote to sack him. Mr Slipper reluctantly agreed to stand down.

Some of Ms Gillard's Labor critics seized on this yesterday to say the PM should have moved against Mr Slipper.

"Slipper's position was untenable and we all knew he was never going to go back into the Speaker's chair. She should have shown the leadership and judgment to get rid of him instead of making us look silly defending him in Parliament," one said.

"It's a question of trust, judgment and integrity," said another Rudd supporter.

Ms Gillard's supporters accused the Rudd camp of "sabotaging Labor" in a bid to deliver bad opinion polls to drive her out. They said the Slipper deal had been created by Rudd supporter Anthony Albanese.

A defiant Ms Gillard defended her position, saying she did not believe the Parliament should be a "kangaroo court" as ministers said they were trying to manage concerns about Mr Slipper's health.

As Ms Gillard won international praise for her parliamentary attack on Mr Abbott on Tuesday amid calls for Barack Obama to copy her style, she vowed to continue it.

"Enough is enough. I've had enough, Australian women have had enough. When I see sexism and misogyny, I'm going to call them for what they are," she said.

Mr Abbott was forced by new Speaker Anna Burke to withdraw a comment in Parliament that Ms Gillard was "a piece of work".

He said Ms Gillard "was prepared to knife Kevin Rudd but wasn't prepared to sack Peter Slipper".

Mr Abbott accused the PM of claiming fair criticism was sexism and his deputy Julie Bishop said Ms Gillard used gender as a "shield" against any criticism.

"We have a Government which plays the class war card when it gets into trouble and when it doesn't play the class war card, tends to play the gender card to try to deflect what is legitimate criticism," Mr Abbott said.

Mr Slipper sat alone on the back bench in Parliament yesterday and cast his first vote as an independent, supporting Labor.

PM should go to the people now

Herald Sun, Stephen Drill and Alex White, October 11

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard should call an election to give voters the chance to elect a clear majority government, business leaders and former politicians say.
The Labor Government was reduced to a one-seat majority after Peter Slipper resigned as Speaker of the Parliament on Tuesday.
Business groups say the uncertainty surrounding the Government, which is relying on the goodwill of the independent MPs to pass legislation, has dented consumer confidence and slowed the economy.
They want Ms Gillard to call an election now to "clear the air" instead of waiting until November next year.
Master Builders Association of Victoria executive director Brian Welch said he admired Ms Gillard's fighting spirit, but that it was time for a poll.
"People are pretty sick of it all. A clear decision needs to be made about the future," he said.

Former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett said voters were frustrated."If I had a magic wand I would call an election tomorrow," he said.
"But I think we will be waiting until next year for an election because the independents don't want to shorten their careers."

Retailer Dick Smith said Ms Gillard would have a chance of winning if she called an early election, despite trailing in opinion polls. "If I was a young person I would be completely disillusioned with what is happening in our Parliament at the moment," he said.

Leading Geelong businessman Frank Costa said he expected Labor would try to hang on.
"The public would probably prefer to have an election now to say who they think should be running the country," he said.

John Lloyd, a director at think-tank the Institute of Public Affairs, said the minority government experiment had failed.
"A chance to clear the air would be good. We have been stuck with a short-sighted government," he said.

But Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt, a key member of the alliance supporting the Gillard Government, ruled out an early poll.
"I believe the Australian people expect parliaments to run a full-term," he said.

A spokeswoman for Ms Gillard said the Prime Minister had made it clear the Government would run a full term.

Itís time to trust voters

Editorial, Herald Sun, October 11

ONE thing has become clear in the aftermath of the Peter Slipper affair - Australia cannot endure another 12 months with a dysfunctional Parliament.

It was always likely that a minority Gillard Government would struggle to be effective - that is, more often than not, the nature of minority governments.

But the toxic nature of debate, the poisonous character assassinations and the absence of any positive intent has gone on long enough. The Australian people deserve better and they deserve to be heard.

The Slipper debacle has been an enormous embarrassment for Labor but not even the party's most ardent supporter could pretend that it is an isolated incident. Take your pick: the tensions with former PM Kevin Rudd, the leaks, the infighting and the Craig Thomson affair all stand alongside the appointment of Mr Slipper as Speaker, a move that had nothing to do with good government and everything to do with propping up a shaky administration.

Everyone knows that these are challenging times that would test even a strong leader. At home, the economy demands a firm hand but instead we have a Government that expends so much energy on simply staying in power that it is distracted from confronting issues such as jobs, housing and infrastructure. It's so busy juggling numbers and negotiating in corridors that it has lost sight of its purpose.

The Australian government has to be able to plan for the future, generate revenue and be on top of security. It has to have an efficient policy on boat people and it has to not only govern effectively, it also has to be seen to be effective.

Politics is an increasingly complicated business in a complicated world. Europe still teeters on the edge of financial catastrophe, the Middle East remains explosive, China's economy appears to be slowing and the US recovery is feeble.

More than ever, Australians need to feel that their politicians are in command, but instead we have a Parliament that has become a poisonous place, riven with fear, accusations and suspicion. Labor's attacks on Tony Abbott, claiming he is a misogynist, have been as ineffective as they have been demeaning, while the Coalition's sniping at Julia Gillard has not been much better.

Where we need vision and drive, we have name calling and petulance, and where we need decisive administration we have fecklessness.

The answer to the problem is simple and obvious: Australia needs an election. We need a government with a working majority and the ambition to do what's best for Australia and not just for itself.

The most recent Newspoll did not make comfortable reading for Labor. It's primary vote support has dropped three points to 33 per cent and the Coalition has risen four points to 45 per cent. The Coalition's two-party-preferred lead is an imposing eight points, 54 per cent to Labor's 46 per cent. So Ms Gillard knows that her prospects are not good, but this farce has gone on long enough.

She must stop trying to shore up her own job and do what's best for the country.

This is no time for political expediency and, while it's the toughest decision she will make, Ms Gillard must put her trust in the people and go to the polls.

Galleries: Mark Knight 2012 - October

Galleries: Mark Knight 2012 - October

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