In a ruthless display of political tactics, Labor has seized on the white-anting of Queensland Liberal MP Peter Slipper and elevated the former deputy speaker to the speakership after the shock resignation of incumbent Harry Jenkins.
Whether Jenkins’s decision to resign, and his stated reasons for doing so — frustration at being unable to speak politically in the neutral role of the speakership — were of his own volition will be a matter for permanent debate. However, Labor Caucus agreed this morning to support Slipper, who replaced Jenkins in the chair after his departure, as the new speaker, and Slipper acccepted once parliament met. After repeated attempts by the Opposition to nominate a Labor MP for the position, Slipper’s nomination ended up being uncontested, and he automatically became Speaker.
The controversial Slipper, famous for a series of incidents inside and outside parliament and claims of expenses scandals, is facing the loss of his preselection in the face of a challenge for his seat of Fisher from former Howard government minister Mal Brough, who lost his seat of Longman in 2007 and left Queensland for a time after his appalling treatment at the hands of pro-merger forces during the creation of the LNP in 2008. Slipper’s colleagues were angered by his acceptance of the deputy speakership in the aftermath of the 2010 election, and he recently courted further trouble by hosting Kevin Rudd on a visit to his electorate.
It appears that the LNP — which has been wracked by internal divisions and leaking — will now inflict a heavy price on the federal parliamentary Coalition for its undermining of Slipper. Labor is likely now to have an additional vote in the house, and Andrew Wilkie’s threat to withdraw his support from the government in the event it is unable to deliver on poker machine reform will have lost its potency. However, it also takes some pressure off any Labor MPs considering resigning their seats prior to the next election.
Jenkins shocked everyone with his announcement, upon starting this morning’s House of Reps session, that he had grown frustrated at being unable to involve himself in party matters. At the end of May, Jenkins appeared to consider resigning after his naming of opposition MP Bob Baldwin was defeated, but he appeared swayed by an urgent intervention by Tony Abbott, who declared his strong support for the speaker. Abbott’s motivations at the time were clear — the resignation of Jenkins would have provided Labor with an additional vote in the house.
And that is exactly the outcome that has come about.
However, it is more likely that Jenkins has been pushed out by the government after securing Slipper’s agreement to take the speakership. After the election, the prime minister was noticeably cool on the idea of Jenkins returning the speakership and appeared keen for independent Rob Oakeshott to take the role. Now an even better outcome has been secured via Slipper. Watch out for a diplomatic appointment down the track for Jenkins, who was well-known for enjoying the Speakership.
A furious Abbott this morning insisted the government was “in crisis” and said that Slipper had not attended a Coalition party room meeting at which attendees agreed anyone who accepted the speakership nomination would be asked to resign. The opposition appears to have again been outsmarted by Labor over the speakership as it was in September last year. This time around, however, much of the fault must lie with the LNP, which appears to have reaped the reward of undermining one of its own during a hung parliament.
Labor’s end-of-year momentum just picked up considerable speed. It’s a huge turnaround from just a few weeks ago when the government appeared in terminal trouble.
But what price will it pay for elevating a man like Slipper?