Slipper's resignation puts focus back on numbers game
The Federal Government's manoeuvre to bolster its numbers by installing Peter Slipper as Speaker imploded dramatically last night when he quit after just 11 controversial months in the job.
The former Liberal and member of the Liberal National Party will now sit on the crossbenches, while Labor's Anna Burke has been elected Speaker.
Before Mr Slipper made his dramatic announcement to the House the Opposition had tried to have him sacked over crude text messages sent from his telephone, which were revealed in the sexual harassment case being heard against him.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott traded accusations after Mr Abbott declared that the Government should have "died of shame", an apparent echo of broadcaster Alan Jones' comments about the PM's father.
"Another day of shame for a Government which should already have died of shame," Mr Abbott said.
I leave this position without rancour, with a great deal of sadness and, more importantly, with a great deal of regret because I believe that, given the controversy which has occurred in recent times, that it is in the interests of the Parliament that I should take the course of action that I have personally chosen to take.
"The Government is not dying of shame, my father did not die of shame," Ms Gillard replied.
"What the Leader of the Opposition should be ashamed of is his performance in this Parliament and the sexism he brings with it.
Mr Slipper survived the motion, 70 votes to 69, with the support of the Government.
But his hours as Speaker were numbered. Soon he was in the chamber announcing his resignation.
"With great sadness I have decided that I should not continue as your Speaker," he told the chamber.
Mr Slipper is facing a sexual harassment claim from his former staffer James Ashby.
On Monday court documents revealed text messages sent between Mr Slipper and Mr Ashby, in which the Speaker used offensive language to describe female genitalia.
On Tuesday afternoon he apologised for the messages, saying they were meant to be private, and said many of them were sent before he became Speaker.
But he said nothing excused their content and he could understand why people - particularly women - would be offended.
In his resignation speech, Mr Slipper praised both Mr Abbott and Ms Gillard.
"I look at the Leader of the Opposition who's been a friend of mine for a very long time, he came to my wedding," he said.
"I don't hold anything against the Leader of the Opposition who I think is a person of fine character and I think we're privileged to have a lady of the amazing stamina that we have as Prime Minister.
"I leave this position without rancour, with a great deal of sadness and more importantly with a great deal of regret because I believe given the controversy that's occurred in recent times that's it's within the interests of the Parliament that I take this course of action."
Mr Slipper was installed as Speaker last year in a move to bolster the Government's numbers in the Lower House.
Now there is potentially one more vote for either the Coalition or Labor, depending on which way Mr Slipper votes as he joins the ranks of the crossbenchers.
Labor's Anna Burke has been elected unopposed to take Mr Slipper's place, with Nationals MP Bruce Scott as her deputy.
Leader of the House Anthony Albanese told 7:30 it was widely agreed that Mr Slipper was a very good Speaker.
But he said Mr Slipper recognised that the scandal surrounding him was damaging the Parliament.
"The relentless negativity of Tony Abbott and the Opposition was going to continue and that I think brings down the standing of the Parliament as a whole," he said.
"I spoke to Mr Slipper this afternoon. I've had a couple of discussions with him about timing and about the processes et cetera.
"It was a decision for him that he came to and him alone."