Labor stalwart Harry Jenkins resigned as Speaker of the House of Representatives yesterday, sending through the Parliament shockwaves that will be felt until the next election.
But it wasn’t so much Jenkins’s shock resignation as the deal to install Deputy Speaker MP Peter Slipper as the new Speaker that had the Coalition fuming. Slipper, a Liberal MP until yesterday, was a pariah within his party. Queensland’s Liberal National Party was to meet last night in an attempt to bring forward his preselection and replaced him with former Howard minister Mal Brough, after a variety of expense account scandals.
But instead, Slipper defected from his party to become an independent and took the pay rise and prestige that the Speaker position brings. The Daily Telegraph‘s front page show just how highly “Slippery Pete” is regarded:
It was the final sitting day of Parliament for the year and no political watcher saw this coming.
“As far as game-changers go, they don’t come much bigger,” declared Simon Benson in The Daily Telegraph.
This extra vote greatly increases the Gillard government’s chance of surviving until the next election. The Malaysia Solution failed by just one vote, meaning the legislation could be attempted again in the House of Reps — although it’s unlikely to pass the Senate.
It also means the government will not fall if Craig Thomson is charged (police are currently investigating the allegations that he misused union funds) or if it fails to pass to pursue independent MP Andrew Wilkie’s pokies reforms — Wilkie has promised to remove his support for the Gillard government if this happens.
But Wilkie is not worried about his pokies legislation. He spoke to Gillard before Jenkins’s resignation and Gillard assured him their relationship would not change. “Central to our relationship is the issue of poker machines and there was no doubt in my mind at the end of the conversation what she was getting at,” said Wilkie.
“Speaker Harry Jenkins’s resignation on the last sitting day of 2011 was a present for the government on its fourth birthday,” writes Mark Kenny in the Adelaide Advertiser.
Labor MP Anthony Albanese, who was key in engineering the deal with Slipper, said he hadn’t spoken to Slipper about it until Jenkins’s surprise resignation arrived in the early morning.
But there’s more to it than that, reports Matthew Franklin in The Australian:
“Speculation was rife in Parliament House that, while Ms Gillard and Mr Albanese had kept out of the affair until yesterday, other Labor MPs had been courting Mr Slipper as it became clear he was unlikely to win LNP nomination to contest the next election. Sources also said Mr Jenkins’s decision was linked to Labor’s efforts to bolster its numbers in the event that claims Mr Thomson used a union-provided credit card to hire prostitutes, which are under police investigation, led to him being forced out of parliament.”
Jenkins made the personal decision to leave, he was not pushed, write Geoff Kitney and Laura Tingle in The Australian Financial Review:
“Sources close to Jenkins insist that the darker side of the conspiracy theory — that he was forced to quit by a government desperate to strengthen its numbers in the Parliament — has no factual basis.
They say Jenkins made the decision to quit privately over a period of weeks and that the only inkling the government might have got was from his canvassing of the views of some very close Labor confidantes about his inclination to give up the job.
One of those confidantes told The Australian Financial Review that Jenkins had privately decided to return to an active caucus role prior to the address to Parliament last week by US President Barack Obama. He had admitted he “perhaps selfishly” decided to stay to preside over that historic occasion.
Jenkins came to Canberra this week with his resignation letter already in his head but of the view that it would “not be a good look” to resign on the eve of the vote on the mineral resource rent tax.”
The Age‘s Michelle Grattan thinks yesterday’s shenanigans screamed dirty party politics:
“All gain for Gillard, at one level. But at a big cost, at another. Labor has done a deal with someone from the other side; it has a tawdry feel about it. Whatever the exact machinations, it’s oh so very NSW Right.”
Jenkins made a personal sacrifice, but it wouldn’t have worked without the Coalition mistreating one of their own, says Peter Hartcher in The Sydney Morning Herald:
“He made his decision after his party in Queensland threatened spitefully to put his seat at risk. That is a threat the federal Coalition is now ruing bitterly.”
What a study in contrasts between Jenkins and Slipper, notes Michael Gordon in The Age:
“One man has walked from the job that delivered personal glorification because he felt a higher loyalty to his party; another, having felt betrayed by his party, walked out on it when opportunity beckoned for personal glorification.”
Expect the Coalition to dig for more dirt about Slipper’s travel expenses rort, even if Labor claims he’s ultimately the Coalition’s responsibility, says Laura Tingle in the Fin Review:
“… he is now Labor’s man and it is likely to rub the other way.
At the least, it risks the prospect of the airwaves being full of stories of what MPs get up to, and much less room for the “clear air” that governments always crave.”
The behaviour in the house yesterday — when MP Christopher Pyne spent an hour nominating nine Labor MPs from the Speakers panel for the position of speaker — proved exactly why the Parliament needed one, says Alison Rehn in The Daily Telegraph:
The election of the Speaker descended into farce on a number of levels – and the irony was nothing could stop it until a new Speaker took the chair.
In a last-minute attempt to switch the outcome, the Coalition tried to convince independent MP Rob Oakeshott that he should be Speaker. Oakeshott had pushed for the Speaker role during the hung parliament negotiations, but Tony Abbott Abbott denied it to him then. And yesterday Oakeshott refused Abbott’s offer, saying he was “once bitten, twice shy” and that “the offer was being made for all the wrong reasons” (he also was unable to guarantee enough support from the crossbenchers).
A furious Abbott evoked the Whitlam government just before its collapse, declaring that there were “shades of 1975 hanging around this government now”.
But Abbott’s anger was just talk, argues Dennis Atkins in the Courier-Mail:
“The bluster was just designed to hide the embarrassment and hurt — they had been out-smarted by Labor, went backwards in the House numbers game and face an almost certain two more years in Opposition.”
What a fascinating end to a most ferocious year of politics.