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Allegations 'hang over' parliament

Peter Slipper
Peter Slipper

THE furore surrounding Member for Fisher Peter Slipper will overshadow crucial Budget sittings, says ANU Professor of Politics Dr John Uhr.

Allegations of sexual harassment and misused cab charges were filed in the Federal Court against Mr Slipper by his former aide James Ashby on Friday.

After mounting pressure to resign his position as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Slipper yesterday stepped aside from the role.

A statement from his office said that he would step aside, but not officially resign, opening the door for Deputy Speaker Anna Burke to step into the coveted role.

Australian National University's Dr Uhr said the allegations against Mr Slipper would not force him out of the job, but that it would "hang over the parliament, certainly at least for the next sittings week".

The next sittings of parliament will prove crucial for the Federal Government when it unveils cuts to bring the budget back to surplus in early May.

Dr Uhr said the much-touted surplus message could be overshadowed by the allegations against Mr Slipper.

"I think the parliamentary committees, which quietly go about their work, will continue to do so," he said.

"But once parliament resumes, all of that controversy is certainly going to put a dampener on any positive announcements the government was hoping to make.

"When the Opposition gets its chance to respond to the Budget in parliament, it's almost certain this latest controversy will be a part of their attack."

Dr Uhl said one of the biggest problems in sorting out such problems was the lack of a code of conduct for Federal parliamentarians.

"The Federal Parliament is still a bit old-fashioned, almost all of the state's have devised a code of conduct or members' conduct guide, so that's one of the problems."

Dr Uhl said he was not aware of any previous Speaker in Australia being the subject of similar allegations.

Mr Slipper's statement said he believed it was appropriate to stand aside while criminal allegations of cab charge fraud were resolved.

"Once it is clear they (the allegations) are untrue, I will return to the Speakership," he wrote in the statement.

With Mr Slipper standing aside, he will not be able to vote on the floor of the House.

Crucially, it means the Labor Government's majority is further reduced, and the government's agenda could be more easily threatened by minority groups and independents.

Independent Andrew Wilkie and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott both called for Mr Slipper to stand aside before he made the statement on Sunday.

But Labor MPs, including Kirsten Livermore, Justine Elliot, Bernie Ripoll, Shayne Neumann, and Janelle Saffin; Greens Leader Christine Milne and Independent's Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott either made no comment, or did not return calls on Sunday.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard did not comment before Mr Slipper's statement was released.

But after his announcement, the Prime Minister's office released a statement saying that it was appropriate that Mr Slipper stood aside during the criminal investigations.

Topics:  peter slipper


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