When it comes to parly, slipper cramps the boot
Speaker Peter Slipper and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott had a minor but telling test of wills on Monday, and the Speaker prevailed.
The moment helped identify who, after the first 18 sitting days of the year, was the dominant player in the jockeying for parliamentarty advantage.
It was one of a number of incidents, including Wednesday’s ejection of Wayne Swan, the first Deputy Prime Minister ever to be tossed from the House, which have shown The Slipper seems to have the measure of his charges.
The Speaker further demonstrated confidence in his role by using a casting vote to prevent changes to Government legislation.
But the most-watchable relationship has been between the Speaker—a former Liberal who turned independent to get the job—and the Coalition leadership. And in particular with Tony Abbott.
In late 2009 Tony Abbott became Opposition Leader by one vote, and it can be argued that vote was from Peter Slipper.
The incumbent Liberal leader, Malcolm Turnbull, was attempting to claim there was Coalition support for his Emissions Trading Scheme to limit carbon pollution.
But at 8.30am on Wednesday, November 25 Peter Slipper fronted reporters with a scathing assessment of his leader.
He said Mr Turnbull’s view of party support had been “about as dodgy as a Zimbabwean election organised by Robert Mugabe’‘.
“I think Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership is a bit wobbly at the moment. I think it is a question of watch-this-space. I think it is just incredible for someone to walk out of the partyroom and declare black is white,’’ he said.
The following Tuesday Tony Abbott won the leadership, 42-41. He of course is still leader, but Mr Slipper is no longer a Liberal and has acquired an authority of his own. And he is prepared to exert it.
Last Monday the Opposition was peppering the Government with questions about problem Labor MP Craig Thomson and controversial investigations into his use of funds belonging to the Health Services Union.
The Speaker ruled that certain statements about Mr Thomson could only be made in a substantive motion, but the Opposition didn’t have the numbers to have such a motion presented. This didn’t make Mr Abbott happy.
“My question, Mr Speaker is this: if leave is not granted for a substantive motion and if an absolute majority is not obtainable how can a substantive motion be moved in this House?’’ he asked.
Mr Abbott then tried his arm with this challenge: “In effect, haven’t you in effect gagged the Parliament?’’
With a tone that was as measured as it was ominous, Mr Slipper replied: “Could you repeat the last sentence?’‘
Tony Abbott could have, but he didn’t. Because he knew a line had been crossed. The Opposition Leader re-made his central point, but didn’t again accuse the Speaker of censoring debate.
Mr Slipper is becoming a cult figure with his practice of narrating his own actions.
For example: “Any honourable member is entitled to take a point of order. The member for Herbert is seeking my attention for this purpose, and he is now given the call.
Just as entertaining for some is his stilted style of ruling on incidents: “The honourable minister will pause, and during that pause the honourable member for Dawson will remove himself from the chamber under the provisions of standing order 94(a).’’
It is Mr Slipper’s high rate of ejections which MPs are finding less amusing. Nine members were put out for an hour for poor behavior on Wednesday - eight Coalition, one Labor.
He has sat down ministers - including Prime Minister Julia Gillard - mid-flow for straying from the question they had been asked, and has ruled questions from both sides out of order.
But it is this readiness to discipline MPs of all ranks which has imposed a degree of order on a particularly rowdy chamber. And one consequence is that Tony Abbott has had fewer opportunities to use against the Government one of the few weapons available to an Opposition - a loose and generous interpretation of Standing Orders.
Peter Slipper is cramping Mr Abbott’s style, and showing who is boss.
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