Peter Slipper’s private text messages to a friend who later became a staffer are none of our business.
And yet their dissemination by that staffer (who assiduously and suspiciously retained every last text message from his friend/boss) via his highly questionable litigation is the ostensible reason why the Speaker of the House of Representatives resigned yesterday.
But the real reason we suspect was the disgraceful extent to which MPs – not often a brave species – were willing to bury the man for private text messages that were off-colour but almost certainly not the most offensive matters ever texted around at night by bored middle-aged male politicians stuck in Canberra for another day.
The messages did nothing to make out the despicable James Ashby’s sexual harassment case. They ought never have been released in our view. They are just one aspect of the obviously ulterior purpose of many of the claims made by Ashby against the former Speaker. The most serious and substantial of them, essentially that he was a thief misusing Cabcharges in league with a Sydney limousine driver, were later withdrawn when discredited. No-one in Canberra expects Slipper to ever be charged with any offences in relation to his use of entitlements despite Ashby’s false claims, years of speculation that he claimed more than he should have and a frenzy of reporting around it since Ashby’s writ was improperly leaked to News Limited’s hard-grafting scribe Steve Lewis.
The vilification of Peter Slipper will hopefully now conclude. Friends say he is very battered and bruised indeed.
The government – all of them – ought to hang their head in shame for encouraging the poor bloke to walk away from his party room to take a high-profile job (which he discharged with distinction) and then failed to adequately protect him from the inevitable attacks from those he left behind. The history of those changing political parties with the exception of Billy Hughes and Winston Churchill seems littered with victims of occasionally grotesque brutality. In the ALP, they are called ‘rats.’ In that context, given the treatment Slipper has got, it seems amazing to us that – according to the ABC this morning – his occasional nemesis and candid photographer disgruntled LNP MP Alex Somylyay was willing to become Speaker, without his party room’s blessing. There is a fine line between brave and crazy.
Slipper’s treatment ought discourage anyone contemplating changing sides once elected to Parliament.
It beggars belief that Slipper has been left paying a legal bill in relation to the employment of a federal public servant. Potentially, the self-represented litigant could be subject to a costs order at the end of the process that could be in the multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars, despite the fact that Ashby has already settled the matter against his employer for what most would agree was a token amount of $50,000.
He’s been left with his own legal bill because of panic, hysteria, incompetence at the highest levels of government that had employed one of the supposedly best QCs in Australia to represent the taxpayers’ interest. It’s easy to blame the Attorney-General for this disgraceful farce but the truth is the government is collectively responsible for it.
Now, none of them are safe. And when the next government is sworn in, they’ll be hoping none of the many hundreds of electorate officers, ministerial staffers, thousands of public servants makes a claim of sexual harassment against any of their own. By the Slipper precedent, guilt will be presumed, resignation demanded, vilification perpetrated and the target stuck with what could be million-dollar legal costs.
Peter Slipper has given up the job he craved and did very well at.
He trusted the wrong bloke. A bloke – James Ashby – whose claims of sexual harassment were always going to be very damaging and hurtful regardless of their veracity. It appears to us – and is widely believed in Canberra on both sides of politics – that Ashby intended to do Slipper an injury before he went to work for him.
His new chums on the government side who crave his vote – and his old mates who attended his wedding and once pretended to be friends – will hopefully now cut Slipper some slack. We’re not sure whether it’s a good sign or a damning admission of the most cynical humbug that the manager of Opposition business Christopher Pyne says they won’t be “refusing” Slipper’s vote in the House in the rather bizarre manner they attempted with Craig Thomson. It will be amusing to watch both sides suck up to Slipper now.
When the dust settles, it will be apparent that the tut-tutting moral hysteria over some off-colour private text messages had nothing to do with Slipper’s public duties.
He’s been publicly humiliated about matters that bear little relation to his capacity to serve as Speaker.
He’s been accused of a range of issues in a writ that have very little to do with a substantial or credible legal claim.
He’s been financially attacked, stuck with a massive legal bill and potential liability that ought be met by the government.
Where does it end? Hopefully here.
We remember the bon mots of many in politics when MP Greg Wilton died about how careful they all needed to be about the politics of personal destruction. Even teary words can be very cheap in Canberra and certainly easily forgotten when there’s a scalp to be gotten.
Every time we think of a creative marginal seat campaign or a gentle bloke caught in the headlights of collision politics, we think of Greg Wilton. Not many of his former colleagues on both sides seem to give his memory much thought at all.
It might not be popular to say so in the Lord of the Flies mob-mentality that prevails in Canberra at times but former Speaker Slipper has been treated disgracefully, shamefully by both sides of politics. We hope Peter Slipper torments the lot of them.