Yesterday, parliament (read: playtime) recommenced in a largely ceremonial capacity, with ministers awkwardly walking through mists of smoke in a “welcome to the country” indigenous performance and newly-elected speaker Harry Jenkins pretending to be dragged unwillingly back to the speaker’s chair.
But there were also some unexpected dramatics, which put an end to the bitter stoush that’s been brewing for days over whether or not the Coalition could, would or should pair the deputy speaker’s role, in turn protecting a two seat government majority.
The situation took an unexpected turn when it was revealed Labor had successfully wooed Queensland Liberal MP Peter ‘Slippery Pete’ Slipper for the deputy speaker’s chair, who went on to beat the Nationals’ Bruce Scott 78-71 in a secret vote. This means the opposition now holds both deputy speaker positions.
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“After the re-election of Harry Jenkins as Speaker, it was assumed the Coalition would get their way, the election of Bruce Scott from the Queensland Nationals (now LNP). But Labor had other ideas. They knew Sunshine Coast Liberals Alex Somlyay and Peter Slipper (also LNP) were contenders to break ranks from Abbott. Both were antagonistic towards Abbott and owed him nothing.”
The move to procure Slipper was widely reported as a coup for the government. Under the headline ‘Gillard snookers Libs over deputy speaker’, Michelle Grattan in The Age wrote: “Labor had ambushed the federal opposition … providing a dramatic foretaste of the uncertainty of a hung parliament.”
Atkins said “Labor tactically outwitted and outflanked the opposition leader” and Jacqueline Maley at the Sydney Morning Herald hurled a rhetorical question in Slippery’s direction: “Surely no one could be that ratty?”
Over at The Australian, Samantha Maiden alluded to Slippery Pete’s iffy reputation in Canberra, observing that Kevin Rudd “once joked Peter Slipper was ‘sponsored by Mogadon’ after he was snapped snoozing during a parliamentary address” and that Slippery’s “arch-enenemy” Alex Somlyay “once revealed he was approached by colleagues complaining Mr Slipper had alcohol on his breath at party room meetings”.
Other journos have covered Slipper’s colourful history, which includes being refused to board a plane after a combination of dental drugs and “a couple of drinks” (not exactly caviar and champagne, but each to their own) and an embarrassing incident in which he was found trapped in a disabled toilet.
Tony Abbott has warned Coalition MPs not to ostracise or intimidate Slipper, lest he feel inclined to act in the government’s favour.
As Phillip Coorey reported in the Sydney Morning Herald:
“A furious Mr Abbott told a Coalition party room meeting afterwards that while it was understandable to feel anger, he warned against forcing the already unpopular Mr Slipper — widely known in Canberra as Slippery Pete — out of the party. Every vote was precious and Mr Slipper would be needed when he was not in the chair.”
Even Barnaby ‘bearded lady’ Joyce appeared to heed the warning, using tame language such as “disappointed” to describe Slippery Pete’s latest shenanigans.