When Tony Abbott’s parliamentary tactics team met at 8.30 on Tuesday morning, the line of attack for the first day back after the break was obvious.
After a fortnight of moralising by Labor’s “handbag hit-squad’‘, the duplicity of the Government downplaying degrading text messages by the PM’s handpicked Speaker Peter Slipper, was too rich to ignore.
What the Abbott brains-trust needed to decide was how best to proceed.
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The transition in the Speaker’s office from Peter Slipper to Anna Burke was swift, but the distance in style and demeanor was huge.
She is known by colleagues on both sides to be down-to-Earth, a dedicated local member without unnecessary frills.
Ms Burke, only the second woman to be Speaker of the House of Representatives, will never be associated with the robes and processions introduced by her image-conscious predecessor.
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Peter Slipper left the Speaker’s office tonight and the Opposition was left with a troubled sense of victory in the campaign to get rid of him.
Mr Slipper bid farewell to his former friend, supporter and wedding guest Tony Abbott, the man who had halted the parliamentary schedule today to demand that he be removed as unfit for office.
He said he held no rancour towards Mr Abbott. Others in his family might not be so generous.
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There’s a story about Tony Abbott excitedly returning home from parliament and informing his wife Margie that John Howard had given him the important tactical position of Leader of the House.
He was promptly told, and I’m paraphrasing, well you’re not the leader of this house honey, take the garbage out. For someone with a problem with strong women, the Opposition Leader has spent his whole life surrounded by them.
A growing list of Government MPs have today joined a chorus of complaint about Abbott’s dealings with the acting Speaker of the House of Representatives Anna Burke. Burke threw Abbott out of Question Time yesterday, after Abbott just couldn’t bring himself to obey her order to withdraw a sledge “unreservedly.”
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From the time of The Punch’s launch the then-Speaker of the House of Representatives was a bit of a Punch mascot. A favourite with some of our more politically-obsessed, Question Time-viewing readers.
Harry put up with a lot. During the tedious 17-day post-election negotiations over who would form government in the hung parliament, Julia Gillard offered Harry’s job to Rob Oakeshott. To cheers Harry clung on to the Speaker’s Chair - for a while.
When the PM saw an opportunity to put Peter Slipper in the chair, thereby removing an opposition vote and shoring up her tenuous position ever so slightly, she pounced.
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Journalists who report on politics for a living see plenty of hypocrisy. We’re seeing plenty now from Julia Gillard.
She asserts that Peter Slipper should not be sidelined until sexual harassment allegations are dealt with by the courts because he’s entitled to the presumption of innocence. It’s the same excuse the prime minister uses when she refuses to intervene in the Craig Thomson affair and says the Labor backbencher accused of grossly rorting union credit cards still has her full confidence.
Yet when Wikileaks infuriated the US Government by publishing a stack of leaked diplomatic cables, Gillard immediately accused editor-in-chief Julian Assange of acting illegally. There was no presumption of innocence for him.
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The public view of the Gillard Government is it’s shielding a man who took union money to pay for prostitutes and another man who tried to get a male staffer into the cot.
None of these claims has been tested or confirmed by a court, all have been denied. But they have become currency in front-bar political debate and can only hurt Labor.
It has been hard enough for the Government to sustain Craig Thomson on its back bench. It now has Peter Slipper – who has never been a member of the ALP – to manage.
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Peter Slipper, draped in black in a manner most young voters will not see outside Hogwarts, has dramatically altered the style of the Speaker’s office.
All occupants of the chair consider the job important. Slipper believes that previously discarded layers of trappings and ceremony are needed to make the point.
Predecessor to this Prince of Pomp was Harry Jenkins, who was more a “People’s Speaker”, a Labor lefty whose natural mode was of informality. But his love of Parliament has been genuine and deep.
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The ghost of Mal Colston is wandering the corridors of Federal Parliament, and some Labor people with long memories fear the worst.
When Colston ratted on the Labor Party in return for the post of Deputy Senate President 15 years ago, giving John Howard a senate majority on crucial issues, it ended in tears.
Will the same thing happen as a result of Julia Gillard’s decision to tighten her government’s grip on power by making disaffected Queensland Liberal MP Peter Slipper Speaker of the House?
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Tony Abbott could have done more to look after Peter Slipper as ambitious enemies lusted after his cushy Queensland seat of Fisher. But he didn’t.
Now the Opposition Leader will pay the price.
Slipper, or Slippery Pete as his nickname goes, has looked after himself by quitting the Liberals and taking up a Labor offer to become Speaker replacing the estimable Harry Jenkins. There is no formal requirement for the speaker to be from the party of government.
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To all those in the The Punch community who wanted – needed – to believe in the ‘New Paradigm’ politics: sorry, we told you so.
In order to gain the Speakership of our Parliament, one of the Independents will have to consider deciding and neutralising his vote on any issue before it is debated in the chamber. Goodbye quaint notion of MPs working together to discern the national interest through rational parliamentary dialogue. Goodbye the New Naïveté.
In the end, the Independents, like most politicians, believe that everything will be better if only they hold the power. This Independent is after the power of the Speakership, because only he can be trusted with the power of the new paradigm.
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