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Apr 23, 2012

Rats, rorters and toxic political workplaces

Don't expect the media to join the dots on the Slipper allegations and wonder why MPs' offices are such toxic workplaces.


What price would Labor pay for elevating a man like Peter Slipper, we wondered last November. Labor’s profound lack of judgment in relying on a man with a history like Slipper’s was obvious for all to see at the time.

But then, Julia Gillard went one further and used the breathing space Slipper afforded to alienate Andrew Wilkie over poker machine reform, making trouble for the government down the track in the event Slipper, Craig Thomson or anyone other Labor MP hit the fence.

Increasingly, Gillard reminds me of Nick Greiner. Both began their premierships in majority government and ended up with hung parliaments. Like Greiner, Gillard has racked up some substantial reforms, although Greiner’s record was significantly better. But, most importantly, both seemed to lose their capacity for political judgment and began making ultimately self-destructive decisions.

But the question raised by the latest allegations about Slipper, and they remain only allegations rejected by him, is one that goes to all parties in Parliament. Why do they tolerate MPs who behave poorly, especially when it is exactly those MPs who are most likely to defect? Labor shielded the corrupt Mal Colston for years. It was only after he ratted on his party that they found the wherewithal to pursue him for his rorting of expenses.

The Coalition tolerated Slipper for years despite repeated problems with his travel expenses (including having to pay back $20,000), a string of unsavoury incidents and a defection from the Nationals to the Liberals. Queensland Labor has its own history of tolerating poor behaviour by MPs. One former Queensland state MP, Ronan Lee, faced serious claims about his treatment of staff, particularly young female staff, and disputes in his office. Lee later defected to the Greens. He later denied any wrongdoing.

Each party, in turn, faces questions about why they accepted turncoats into their ranks or rewarded them. The Howard government found shielding Colston a constant burden. Slipper is now making life a misery for Labor. Eager to claim the party’s first Queensland state MP, Bob Brown himself went to Brisbane to welcome Ronan Lee (who, incidentally, held decidedly unGreen views on abortion) into the fold in 2008, despite the Greens being warned about his history.

In each case, the lesson is the same: these MPs end up causing more trouble than they’re worth to both their originating parties and those whom they benefit with defection.

A persistent theme is that these sorts of MPs treat their staff poorly. Colston blamed his office manager (later, state Labor MP) Christine Smith for some of his travel expense rorts in 1997. Lee churned through so many staff the Queensland parliament used a temp agency to keep him supplied. Now Slipper is accused of harassing staff.

The claims against Slipper may not be proved. But unfortunately, poor treatment of staff, and particularly electoral officers, is widespread right across politics. Stories of abuse, bullying and worse come and go in the media without anyone ever connecting the dots and wondering why politicians’ offices are such toxic workplaces. There is a long list of casualties of politicians in the community, former staff members who bear the scars of their treatment. Some are unable to ever work again.

It’s not in the interests of parliaments to address the problem, and politicians prefer to pretend it doesn’t exist. And political journalists can’t be bothered stepping back and investigating whether there’s a systemic problem.


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58 thoughts on “Rats, rorters and toxic political workplaces

  1. Michael


    She’s a lot of things but a Nick Greiner she ain’t!!!

  2. Jimmy

    Is it just me who finds the timing of these allegations strange, I mean they are hardly new most relating to 2010.

    Is it all designed to ruin the govt’s budget week when parliament resumes?

  3. Michael de Angelos

    So gossip now passes as political comment.

    Despite it just being ‘allegations’ past gossip is re-cycled as though it is truth.

    You may as well ask what Australians will tolerate if they are prepared to vote for a man who has questions to answer over the jailing of Pauline Hanson, a person whos epolicies I abhored yet did not deserve the political machinations that put her in prison.

    Ditto voting for a man who was always seated to the right of the man who took us to 2 wars with contries that have never harmed us and in which tens of thousands of innocent souls died.

    What a country we live in-one where power may rely on a few text messages.

  4. Edward James

    The very poor work product from our elected representatives across the board is a problem of our own making. Journalist who won’t join the dots because they enjoy working with the drops they get from politicians are also voters and tax payers. The conduct of the Labor Party during the long drawn out exposure and eventual prosecution of the Labor MP for Swansea Milton the horrible Orkopolous who was certainly abusing his power. Is being repeated at the Federal Level of government under the oversight of hundreds of our elected representatives. The sorts of political sins against the peoples will continue while Labor party members and supporters are comfortable being led by an identifed liar. Edward James

  5. Microseris

    Gillards judgement has a Inspector Clouseau quality about it. An unhappy knack of turning any opportunity into a sh*t sandwich.

  6. Arty

    “Like Greiner, Gillard has racked up some substantial reforms, although Greiner’s record was significantly better. “

    An unsupported statement redundant to an interesting observation about tolerance of loose political canons.

  7. bluepoppy

    It is not only true of political staffers, but of public servants who are under pressure because of their Minister’s behaviour or choices and who face brick walls and/or mistreatment if they speak out about gross mismanagement and failures in duty of care. It is difficult because there is such an entrenched culture of cover-up, that pressure alone affects people at all levels. It also highlights how many people in positions of power across government are ill-equipped to manage people.

    If these allegations are unproven or prove false, it still remains that Slipper was a decidely bad choice and reflects poorly on Gillard’s integrity, and with the 24 media cycle, it is those poor decisions that will be at the forefront, despite some good policy decisions.

  8. The Pav

    Curiously enough there seems to be some significant comment that he was actually doing a good job as speaker

  9. mikeb

    I think JG made a smart move in “recruiting” Slipper as she has plenty of ways of turning it back onto the coalition. Getting Wilkie offside however smacks of duplicity and might come back to bite her. A case of he who laughs last…………..

  10. Meski

    I doubt that you should expect energetic investigation from Labor over this.

  11. redpath

    When I read that Mr Slipper has spent almost $700,000 in expenses on the public purse, I am of course outraged. After all, the parliamentary norm is probably more like $500,000, which I should swallow like a good taxpayer. Some sense of perspective from journalists would be useful.

    Most of the “rorts” are actually entitlements for all Federal politicians, and most of the current ones in question occurred well before Mr Slipper became the Speaker and thus, somehow or other, became “Julia’s man”. Some sense of perspective from journalists would be useful.

    I’m not defending Peter Slipper, but if he gets drunk on the free booze on his free business class travel home to Queensland, then I would prefer he catches a $300 cab home from the airport (which he is apparently entitled to) than rent a car and endanger those that share Queensland roads.

  12. shepherdmarilyn

    Gossip has always passed as political commentary.

    Slipper has never been charged with anything and for god’s sake stop the ridiculous “rat”” bullshit.

    they changed one minor petty party for the other.

    As both minor petty parties are the same what is the point?

    It’s quite legal and no different to changing foot ball teams.

    And blind freddy can see it’s another “Steve Lewis beat up.

  13. Steven Warren

    “I’m satisfied (Mr Slipper) has acted within his entitlements. My understanding is that he’s acted within his entitlements.” Tony Abbott, August 2010

  14. Andybob

    Obviously since its all work related we need an immediate investigation by Fair Work Australia.

  15. Ronson Dalby

    Why would Labor need to investigate anything, Meski?

    A federal court will decide on the taxi vouchers and anything else associated with that issue and a civil court on the text messages etc.

  16. Arty

    All politicians are bullies, who want to tell us how to think and how to live.

    Why pick on Slipper only?

  17. Bill Hilliger

    @Michael De Angelos – hear hear! Mostly low talented lazy journalists and reporters with a reality show mentality reign supreme. Aided and abetted by an equally sensationist print and electronic media keep the important things like the budged lead-up and aged care reform in the background. Furthermore, the opposition wing-nut would like us to think that Peter Slipper was never part of the coalition party – we the Australian people know better.

  18. geomac

    Parliament elects the speaker which usually means the government in office but with a hung parliament it was by majority vote . Slipper was endorsed numerous times by either the nationals and libs . In fact the libs were quite happy to accept Slipper when he defected from the Nationals similar to the now departed McGuaran . Where was Abbotts moral or integrity compass in relation to Reith , Vaille and Downer ? Abetz of all people has put his bit in yet he was a person who escaped charges in the Grech email fraud , unbelievable .
    So can I take it that Abbott now has a position that priests should stand down from duties when accused of improper dealings with young in their flock ? Can I assume that it is acceptable to malign and pre judge clergy and that all accusations should be aired publicly ? No more excuses of ” not in the public interest ” to refuse release of documents and papers such as Costellos gold sell off .
    I tend to look at this government from the perspective Howards first term where he lost 6 senior government members from their senior positions due to an inability to conduct themselves according to parliamentary standards . Whoops , sort of like Abbott not listing his 700,000 dollar loan on the parliamentary register but worse .

  19. shepherdmarilyn

    I fail to see how Ashby can make a claim against Slipper and Tony Nutt and the commonwealth over something alleged to have happened to someone else in 2003.

    How does that make him a victim of anything?

    Fair dinkum our media are fools.

  20. cairns50

    bernard lets get a couple of things straight here regarding your article, can you explain the following to myself and your other crikey subscribers

    1 how come when an MP gets caught , sprung or whatever filling in false expense claims, he can pay the money back, and thats the end of the story ?

    try doing that to Centrelink, try doing that as an employee with ones expenses with his or her employer

    with centrelink they launch a criminal prosecution and launch proceeding to collect the monies fraudly claimed

    with an employer, the employee gets the sack, end of story, and they take the money back out of any outstanding entitlements, and they can also go to the police to ask for the matter to be investigated as fraud

    2 how is it that julia gillard changing her mind on the carbon tax is such a big deal in the scheme of things regarding politicians lying? are you serious ?

    the way yourself and every other commentator rave on about her about face , policy back flip, call it what you like, would have us beleive that she has commited murder

    if julia gillard and labor are to be judged and villified by the media on one broken promise then i expect the same from you and your media mates if abbott gets elected

    the truth is abbott his right wing lackeys in the media, the born to rule mob running the show in the country anyway, have never accepted the verdict of the last election

    why ? because they did not win

  21. Michael de Angelos

    You have to hand it to the PM Julia Gillard this time.

    Tony Abbott does have questions to answer as to his integrity as he was Coaltionleader and a minsiter under Howard for years while Peter Slipper was selected as a candidate.

    Typical in politics-mud slinging always risk blowback. My prediction-Showergate /Textgate will be storm in a teacup as Kevin’s utegate was.

  22. Boerwar

    I seem to recall that there were various attempts to let readers know that there was something fairly badly wrong in Mr Rudd’s office when he was Prime Minister.

    In terms of serial abuse, there is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that Comcar drivers eventually black balled a certain minister having taken umbrage at his serial back seat shagging.

  23. Tom McLoughlin

    Gee Bob Brown is looking better every day by comparison with both major parties, isn’t he? Out and proud, chose his timetable, did his job and did it well. Can’t ask for more than that.

    Even the Opposition look ‘squalid and tawdry’ every time they accuse the ALP, given he was their representative for all those years.

    By the by, I never thought the Speaker was anyone special except arguably when the numbers were close, or question time became a rabble. I mean when did expertise in parliamentary process become high status? Sounds like torrens title land registration to me. As for representing the parliament, mmm. A mere functionary surely? World leaders would hardly care one way or the other. It’s the political leaders who provide the example surely, not a speaker aka meeting facilitator.

  24. Suzanne Blake

    With Slipper unable to vote, all it needs is Wilkie or Windsor or Oakeshott to cross the floor and Gillard loses the vote.

    Dishonest Gillard’s judgement fails again.

  25. GeeWizz

    Just read on SMH that Kathy Jackson is taking the the HSU East union to court about voting being stacked by outsiders(faceless men anyone?) by the HSU Union Heavies for important union votes.

    Kathy Jackson is doing a fantastic job getting rid of the corruption and rorting going on in the union movement and the old boys club of well paid union heavies.

    Take em to town Kathy… it’s about time the public found out whats going on behind the scenes of the union movement and the Labor Party itself.

  26. GeeWizz


    When I heard Tony Abbott say after Slipper became speaker that he is now “Labors Problem” I just knew this was a rope-a-dope for the coalition.

    Seriously did they do any background checks before they took this guy on?

    I mean everything this government touches turns to dirt… now they are going to have to suck back up to Wilkie and I bet he has a massive grin on his face today.

  27. Edward James

    shepherdmarilyn you are a public trust journalist of sorts have a look here http://www.canberratimes.com.au/opinion/political-news/slipper-used-position-to-harass-staffers-court-documents-20120423-1xfty.html … then click this link : In full: the Slipper court documents. What do you want shepherdmarilyn politicians with switches who can turn off their down side when we are paying attention? i ask you thios because I have published allagations which expose the falsehoods our elected reps and others have promulgated. See copier of the published doucuments here; http://bit.ly/EJ_PNewsAds Link to political attack ads corruption I have identifed as being accommodated by our elected representatives at all three levels of government. Perhaps you should give me a call 0243419140 explain how our elected reps can let people suffer when what is occuring is simply wrong. Edward James 0243419140 Umina NSW. Suzanne blace we will enjoy change when the peoples resolve to elect change!

  28. beachcomber

    Alex Somlyay (the LNP MHR for the seat next to Slipper’s for the last 20 years) told his local newspaper, the Sunshine Coast Daily, that Slipper was a “protected species” for years under Howard.

    You ask why. Good question. His was a safe seat. Dumping him, and replacing him at any of the last 3 elections, would not have risked losing the seat.

    So you have to assume that dumping him would be a different sort of risk. That it was better to keep Slipper inside the tent, than risk dumping him and having him go feral.

    It may be that rorting of expenses is so entrenched, that no MP feels safe.
    It may be that expoliting young, idealistic staffers is so entrenched, that no MP feels safe.
    It may be they all really liked him and achieved much, although I see no evidence of the latter option.

    It will be interesting to see who Slipper decides to drag down with himself. The fact that Abbott has gone ballistic suggests that it is most likely to be the Coalition. Attack is the best form of defence, so they say.

  29. Ian Sale

    looks like a sting to me – a honeypot situation. Ashby was quick to go legal, far too quick

  30. AR

    wot ARTY sed – name ONE, just one, worthwhile action by Greiner – for those with lonnggg memories, I give you the 3×3 petrol tax (an official sign remained on the Lapstone hill until the late 90s until someone stole it, beating me to it) which was 3cents excise for 3 years specifically to spend on roads – just jokin’ but, hey, only B/S for voters!
    As for the ‘quality’ (sic!) of MPs, what can one expect when they are selected from such a shallow talent pool, forelock tuggers, apparatchiks and gombeens, with nary a worker/artisan or worthwhile profession to be seen. ie 70% are lawyers, ’nuff said.

  31. eric

    Hey Suzie dear Dream on NONE of the Indies will vote themselves out of office.

    Wilkie especially considering the appalling treatment he got for telling the TRUTH about the Iraq war by Howard and his thugs including Abbott,

    BTW Abbott is an admitted lier!

  32. Edward James

    Posted Monday, 23 April 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
    Lets exchange rat for cat.

  33. Schnappi

    Liberal dirt is always claimed to be cleaner than labor dirt.

    As to rorts the media does not mention abbotts huge half yearly phone bill,no report on the second half year,a huge rort on just one item ,the rest of his doings never get reported.

  34. Edward James

    I live here on the Woy Woy peninsula. I have endured the let down which come with trusting politicians and their supporters. Now I work to exercise my own influence in the best interest of my fellow constituences. Labor and Liberal have refused to enguage with me, but there is much more to be addressed ahead of the needs of the local comunity./

  35. Frank Campbell

    The weirdest thing is that an MP can describe as a “senior adviser” someone he has plucked from a strawberry farm, to consume at leisure in a Canberra flat…

  36. Schnappi

    Seems the guy who has made allegations against slipper,has also made against the government,the last one,so why does abbott and all those in the last government not stand down?

  37. botswana bob

    The reason seems clear: most pollies are not normal human beings. They are motivated by the exercise of power as well as the substantial entitlements. They obtain pre-selection by plotting, intrigue and thugging. They win elections by fibbing and flummoxing voters with promises they have no intention of keeping.Once in office, they spend much time scheming and plotting their advancement at the expense of others. An example: the current PM, who as revealed on FOUR CORNERS was plotting against Rudd whilst portraying herself as being dragged reluctantly into The Lodge. Most seem to conduct life by the political Golden Rule: Do unto others before others do unto you. In such a world, Colston and Slipper seem perfectly normal.

  38. Thorn

    Why does Slipper’s alleged behavior reflect poorly on the Prime Minister?

    By all accounts Slipper has been a very even handed Speaker, and seems to run the reps with a discipline that the other guy did not have. I would say that her decision to make an Independent MP Speaker was very smart politically and as worked out to be very successful. She showed remarkable political skill.

    These current allegations do not impact upon Gillard at all – and why should they?

    If he has misued his expenses he will have to pay it back just like every other politician has to in similar circumstances, and as he has done before when he was a Liberal. The other stuff about sexual harrasment will either be proven or not. If it is then he will have to face the consequences of his actions, and if that involves being forced to resign so be it.

    This is all on his head, not the Governments, unless you are searching for some new thing to attack the PM as Abbott is, or you are a political commentator looking for some headline and by linking it to Gillard you can make it seem earth shattering news.

    What has this got to do with the Prime Minister?

  39. Suzanne Blake

    @ GeeWizz

    I suppose that after Labor’s success is delaying the FairJoke Australia HSU investigation, they thought a delay on a Slipper investigation was a piece of cake.

    Its a piece of something else, less tasty.

    Gillard will be on the sleeping tablets again flying to Gallipoli. Hoping the first question she gets there is lot Slipper related

  40. Meski

    @Ronson: My comment was ironical, meaning Labor will drag its feet, if it does anything. WHy would the Federal court even be involved? Nothing illegal has happened, at worst, mildly unethical. And it took place under a coalition government. If it were illegal, what’s the statute of limitations? A Coalition/Murdoch desperation play.

  41. Holden Back

    I am interested that no-one has yet commented on the revolving door between politicians’ staffer positions and ‘journalism’, if that’s the word I want. Of course, journalists’ behaviour is always above reproach – oh, wait . . .

  42. khtagh

    From watching a lifetime of politics this is the most obvious set-up that there has ever been.

    Has anyone ever heard of entrapment!!

    Yes slipper is an idiot but, there is more to the victim than hits the press, he is a liberal plant with the only one aim take out slipper.

    Remember the mad monks creed

    “I’ll do anything to get power”

    This is right out of the liberals nasty trick bag.

  43. Worrierqueen

    Gillard is a paradox. She has done many great things, most notably the carbon tax and the NBN, two generational changes that she can be proud of for the rest of her life.

    But on many other issues; gay marriage, sending kiddies to malaysia, making Slipper speaker and dumping Wilkie she has shown herself to be untrustworthy, unconvincing and unprincipled. This is why she has such low personal approval ratings that are only getting lower.

    And she seems so dumb. How could anyone credibly talk about the ‘real Julia’ without, with just a moment’s reflection, realising what that is saying about the Julia she has been for the last 30 odd years of her political life. And what does it say about new (next?) Labor that they would promote such a person to the highest position in the land, while many more talented and principal Labor members languish on the backbench or in minor positions of influence.

    Labor is a broken reed. they don’t believe in anything anymore except to ape some sort of torylite party. This is rapidly leading to the inevitable demise of a once great party that produced our greatest leader ever (Whitlam).

    Gillard didn’t start the rot of course. That was Keating’s fault who ended free tertiary education, started the gulags in the desert and sold the Commonwealth bank for a song (less than 3 month’s profit these days). Keating’s experiment with torylite ended in inevitable disaster (just as his political triplets Clinton’s and Blair’s administrations did) but the Labor party took no notice of the obvious point, why vote tory light when in Howard or Abbott you can have the real mccoy?

    Because they have completely destroyed the credibility of their own party, we now face a return to the 16th century of paranoia, suspicion and the rule of theocracy under Abbott, and his God, Cardinal Pell, potentially for a decade.

    God help us all.

  44. Ronson Dalby

    This is something I haven’t seen before today:

    “Slipper, who is an ordained priest with the Anglican Catholic Church in Australia, is also expected to stand down from his position as chief legal adviser to Archbishop John Hepworth, who heads the breakaway Traditional Anglican Communion.”


  45. Cleland Ian

    Just reading through the comments and it appears that for the most part we expected the outcome that is now reality.

    The government, all parties included, along with the media must think the population is stupid and uninformed. Both do it at their own peril. There is a people movement out there that is ignoring both. The internet has provided everybody with the opportunity to connect to people they actually feel some resonance with and excludes both governments and the media from their discussions.

    This issue being discussed is really totally irrelevant to the future and is just another distraction to avoid getting on with the job of determining our future directions.

  46. Worrierqueen

    As to why boss-staff relations are so toxic in Parliament, its due to one thing only, the narcissism of 90% of politicians. If they weren’t narcissist’s they wouldn’t enter politics in the first place and once there, their sense of entitlement and superiority leaves the rest of us punters in the shade.

  47. Frank Campbell

    Read the court documents (Canberra Times website)

    For all the fulmination about a salacious media etc. in these comments, much has been omitted from the news- presumably because MSM news is a tad prudish…

    I like the description of the 2003 events (the video) in which the athletic Slipper:

    “(a) enters the bedroom of a junior male staff member via the window;
    (b) lies on a bed with the junior male staff member in shorts and t-shirt and hugs
    the junior male staff member in an intimate fashion;
    (c) urinates out of the window of the room.”

  48. Schnappi

    The leader of the coalition is at it again,gave an unprompted statement about the reserve bank and intrest rates,being decided today,then came back and said it was good inflation came down today.Now does not know if it is start of the month or near end of it,already knew he never knows what day it is,with his mind on the lodge ,seems intrest rate and inflation are just to hard to know when they are reported.

  49. Arty

    The only logical explanation is that this is a set-up.

  50. AR

    WorrierQueen – I can add nothing to your explication. Well done.

  51. Schnappi

    No doubt innocent or guilty pete is slippery,so is abbott with petes vote to get him the leadership,should they have another vote?also think abbott should be asked how many dinners has he had with murdoch or murdochs envoy,in light of the british prime minister dinners with james and rebekak.

  52. Schnappi

    Nutt has denied the claims of ashby about 2003,should be intresting for slippers lawyers to call nutt,and under oath one could expect liberal dirt,could even be another utegate.

  53. Schnappi

    Seems another out going liberal unsupported liberal by abbott, wants the job as speaker, if slipper can not have it,seems abbotts bubble has burst,do not tell sb the name of the liberal is the same as the tv seriess tarring a bloke called TOM.

  54. Schnappi

    Another liberal from SA also wants the job as speaker ,seems abbotts bubble has burst,he showed no loyalty to anyone so thats now two he does not have.

  55. Suzanne Blake

    @ Schnappi Tom

    Bet you were not in intelligence either.

  56. Suzanne Blake


    You have been selective in your listening to the Leverson inquiry. Murdoch also has dinners with Tony Blair (Labor), flew Blair to Australia to meet with then PM Paul Keating and hosted them at Hayman Island at a conference with those two and Opposition Leader at the time John Howard.

    Evidence showed that Murdoch (and his papers) supported the Labor government against then then Conservative Government of John Major.

    Therefore, all Murdoch is doing is smoosing the current world leaders and likely replacements. Nothing wrong with that, just smart.

    The Politicians need Murdoch, just as much as he needs them.

  57. Schnappi

    Ah sb but they did not know about murdoch then did they,if you say they did ,so did abbott and his bunch of hasbeens,would not matter if they get elected they are still murdochs hasbeens.

  58. Schnappi

    Also sb abbott has modelled himself on cameron and britain is in a horrible recession,which abbott would do here.Looks like he lose hunt etc.

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