Peter Slipper failed to show up in court today for the ongoing s-xual harassment case brought by his former staffer James Ashby. He didn’t send a lawyer, either.
“He chose not to be represented. He should be here,” Federal Court judge Steven Rares snapped this morning, rejecting the suggestion he couldn’t afford representation. “He has a responsibility to the public to be here and to the Act to be here.”
Slipper’s responsibility to the public is a tangled web. He remains the speaker of the nation’s Parliament — “he gets paid,” as Justice Rares reminded the court to today — and a key figure to a government on a razor-thin margin.
Ashby has already won $50,000 from the Commonwealth, after Labor gave the OK for lawyers to settle that case. Slipper emailed the court requesting the personal suit go to mediation.
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Where this leaves Slipper is unclear. But it does force Labor into the decision it’s been trying desperately hard not to make: does the speaker finally have to be sacked? If so, would Slipper quit Parliament given he can’t win re-election next year? How would he vote from the cross-benches? And how disastrous could all this be for a government that must build momentum ahead of an election?
The question of responsibility is very tangled, indeed.