Slip sliding away from the Speaker’s chair
Peter Slipper attempted to enhance the reputation of Parliament by wearing the robes of an 18th century English parson and forming the world’s shortest formal procession to mark his entry to the House of Representatives.
It looked funny, but it was a genuine bid for a more dignified legislature. He backed up the pomp and frippery with measured and applauded management of the most boisterous chamber in the Westminster system. He was sincere in wanting to lift the image of the House, and the Parliament itself.
But it now can be argued that the current focus on Peter Slipper has endangered the very dignity of the national Parliament which he had wanted to reinforce, and through that the image of the entire nation.
It is for this reason alone that he will not be able to again take his place in the Speaker’s chair until and unless the more sordid allegations against him are sorted out. It is not a matter of his guilt or innocence. It is a question of his ability to do the job.
The former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was accused of rape and later the charges were not proceeded with.
However, Strauss-Kahn had to leave his job and abandon political ambitions because his personal authority had been damaged by the allegations and prevented him from performing as required.
Peter Slipper, for the same reasons, cannot expect to reclaim his job. Every major embassy in Canberra will by now have their copy of the 14-page Federal Court application James Hunter Ashby V Commonwealth of Australia & Anor. The “another” of course is Peter Slipper.
Diplomats will be fully aware of its contents and their reports to the relevant desks back home will have included references to the Slipper scandal.
So, imagine the situation should a visiting head of state be welcomed to Parliament House by the usual bunch of officials, which would include the Speaker.
If the Speaker were Peter Slipper it is quite possible the visiting dignitary - or at least the travelling staff - would know the man representing Parliament has been accused of chiding a younger adviser, “But you even go to the toilet with the door shut.”
Country briefs studied by the visiting group might have included the fact that the Speaker of the House of Representatives had been adduced of saying to that staff member, “Have you ever come in a guy’s arse before?”
Peter Slipper would not be able to make an appearance, official or otherwise, without attracting a barrage of titters and knowing smirks.
No matter the decorum and restraint of the official visitor, the guest of Parliament probably would know that a court document has accused him of using his office “to pursue relationships of a sexual nature with young male employees”.
No matter the validity of the claims against him in the legal document, a broader and less manageable court has made a decision about him.
And a figure of fun and derision will not have the personal authority and standing to be the Speaker.
Image is everything for the leading figure of an organisation which counts propriety and trust among its most important assets.
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