Slipper is not the only wild card in Parliament
Peter Slipper’s disgraced return to the floor of parliament has altered the numbers by one vote but its impact on the behaviour of fellow independents may be much bigger.
Already Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie, who began this term of minority government as a friend of Labor, is using his elbows.
He is furious at being dudded on a deal to introduce tough new anti-pokies laws - a betrayal only made possible by the orchestrated defection of Slipper last November from Team Abbott to the Speaker’s chair.
That bit of cleverness gave Labor the use of the Harry Jenkins’s vote, while lowering Tony Abbott’s number by one.
Crucially, it meant Mr Wilkie lost the implied threat of bringing the Government down if he switched sides.
Now that Mr Slipper is back in the ruck, so too is Mr Wilkie. The outspoken former intelligence analyst, once again holds a pivotal vote only this time, he is not inclined to be so friendly and trusting.
Tellingly, he voted with the Coalition on Tuesday to oust the Speaker on the basis that the latter’s lurid text messages had brought the parliament into disrepute.
Few could argue they hadn’t done even if Julia Gillard gave it a red-hot go.
But it was Mr Wilkie, rather than the Government, who was vindicated only hours later when Mr Slipper yielded. Mr Wilkie let his displeasure at the whole sordid affair be known in a terse press statement.
As it turns out, it was two other independents, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, who played the most important role in bringing the Speaker down by directly forcing his hand behind the scenes.
That took place literally during the white-hot parliamentary debate over his future. Mr Windsor had already seen the sin-binned Speaker an hour before the Question Time ambush but then went back with Mr Oakeshott even as the parliamentary shouting match proceeded.
At this second meeting, their demand was outlined to Mr Slipper directly: we will not vote you out via the Abbott motion but you have to agree to resign today.
The eventual vote was a knife-edged 69 votes to 70. Slipper survived but by then, he was already toast.
All eyes now turn to the more complex task before the Government in wrangling what will be an extra five votes from the total of eight MPs not formally aligned to either side.
Three of those, the former Labor MP Craig Thomson, the Greens’ Adam Bandt, and The WA Nationals’ Tony Crook are as good as locked in - the former two to the ALP and the latter one to the Coalition. Another in Bob Katter is a renegade by nature but he is also a conservative fellow-traveller and would rarely be inclined to support Labor.
That leaves the Government relying on Messrs Windsor and Oakeshott, with whom they concur on many things and particularly on confidence and supply matters as per an agreement reached in 2010. The wild-cards in any vote then are either Mr Wilkie or Mr Slipper and more likely both at the same time.
In truth, it is anyone’s guess what these two will do.
Mr Wilkie knows a thing or two about how to use a balance of power vote and has fresh millions for a hospital in his Hobart electorate to prove it.
But what about Mr Slipper? True he was hounded out by his old mates in the Coalition but he was surprisingly conciliatory towards Mr Abbott in his resignation speech. What did that mean if anything?
On the one hand, he’s a natural conservative and would regain a measure of right-wing cred for voting a Labor government down if it came to that.
On the other hand, he’s been replaced as the LNP’s endorsed candidate for Fisher at the next election by a man he viscerally loathes: former Howard government minister, Mal Brough.
In the end, it might be his refusal to give Brough what he so desperately wants that stops Mr Slipper from hurrying Labor out the door.
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