PAUL SHEEHAN April 23, 2012
Illustration: Simon Bosch
The following text message was allegedly sent by Peter Slipper on February 1 to one of his staffers, James Ashby: ''But you're [sic] call and no hard feelings in that you only want businesslike contact. In that event of the difficulty in our personal.''
Alleged response text by Ashby: ''I don't know what type of contact you expect Peter. Perhaps u should define that u would like and I can then be clearer on my position.''
Slipper: ''U want something more? U brillianmt [sic] at massages.''
Ashby: ''No I'm happy the way things are. I care for u Pete but the massage is at far as it goes. Life's a lot more simpler when it's business and a few drinks after work.''
Oh indeed. Unguarded private texts make for queasy reading but they are part of more than a thousand words of texts and alleged dialogue between Slipper, 62, and Ashby, 33, embedded in a compensation complaint lodged by Ashby against Slipper.
Ashby claims Slipper subjected him to sexual harassment while Slipper, who is married, was his employer and Speaker of the House of Representatives. He also claims Slipper misused the Cabcharge system.
Slipper denies the allegations, which emerged in the public domain on Saturday.
Ashby appears to be no paragon of virtue, but for Slipper the issue of his self-indulgence in claiming work expenses has dogged him for years. His own party was seeking to remove him before he left the Liberals and took the Speaker's role.
He is taking the Gillard government down a slippery slope to a level of illegitimacy I have not seen before in my years of covering politics. Not even the Whitlam government, and the constitutional coup in 1975 engineered by a reckless Malcolm Fraser, matched the impression of illegitimacy that now hangs over this government.
Federal Labor increasingly looks like NSW Labor when the government had sunk into decadence. Premier Kristina Keneally worked furiously running the government, just as Gillard is doing, but she inherited a corrupt political machine and a disillusioned electorate.
Gillard's predicament is even worse. She is the agent of her own decline.
She may be the first woman Prime Minister but Keneally was the first woman Premier of NSW and the public was unmoved by sentiment when it was time to vote.
Slipper is Gillard's man and Gillard's problem. She engineered his tawdry elevation to the speakership. Now she is reminding us that everyone is entitled to a presumption of innocence, just as she has reminded us about Craig Thomson.
Remember her response in Parliament last August 16 when she was asked whether she had confidence in Thomson, the member for Dobell? She replied: ''I have complete confidence in the member for Dobell … I look forward to him continuing to do that job for a very long, long, long time to come.''
It must seem like a very long, long, long time. Her minority government's ongoing dissembling about Thomson and the flagrantly corrupt Health Services Union may be keeping it in power but it is also pushing the issue of corruption and cover-up into the next election cycle.
We know what the opinion polls are saying: that Labor has settled into a 30 per cent rump of support from public servants, union activists and ideologues with a vested interest in Labor staying in power.
We also know what the electorate thinks of the world's largest carbon tax about to be imposed by Labor and the Greens despite Gillard's unambiguous undertaking during the 2010 election campaign: ''There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.''
The electorate was already uneasy about the way Gillard and union enforcers had liquidated an elected prime minister during his first term. The polls are saying the electorate is now uneasy about the scorched earth tactics Labor is using to increase union power and, despite having no mandate, to impose tens of billions of dollars in carbon tax and carbon churn.
Thanks to the Greens and three lower house independents, Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Andrew Wilkie, the government has also been able to push through a multitude of measures designed to shore up the power of the unions, notably the Fair Work legislation and dismantling the effective Australian Building and Construction Commission to appease the main construction union, the CFMEU.
At least Wilkie, having been strung along by Gillard over poker machine reform, is in no mood to keep the protection going. Over the weekend he called for the Speaker to step down and sit on the cross benches until the legal complaint has been resolved.
As for Oakeshott and Windsor, they can expect to protect the government to the bitter end. In the 2010 election, Labor's primary vote in Oakeshott's electorate was a pathetic 13.5 per cent. In the Senate vote it was just 30.1 per cent. Both results were the second-lowest in the country for Labor.
The lowest Labor votes were in Windsor's electorate, a derisory 8.1 per cent in the House (and just 3.6 per cent for the Greens) and only 28.7 per cent in the Senate.
From this crushing rejection Windsor and Oakeshott managed to create a mandate for a Labor government. They now own it - and Peter Slipper, and Craig Thomson and the carbon tax.
Parliament will resume on Tuesday, May 8. We may soon see a moment of truth for the three ex-Coalition turncoats, Slipper, Windsor and Oakeshott, who are propping up a government the electorate never really wanted and no longer believes.
Follow the National Times on Twitter: @NationalTimesAU