What normally would be somewhat of a celebration — the unveiling of a portrait in parliament of a former speaker — had a more sombre tone for Peter Slipper.

Beneath a large black sheet perched on a wall in Parliament, sat the portrait that Labor MP, Michael Danby, said he hoped would atone for of the parliamentary “bile” dished out to Slipper during his time as speaker.

Slipper spoke of his street being lit up like Suncorp stadium on State of Origin night, and being forced to crawl around on the floor of his home, during the peak of media interest in his travel expenses scandal. While many of his parliamentary colleagues were allowed to pay it back, Slipper was chased through the courts to pay back some of his Cabcharge fees — eventually making an appeal he ultimately won.

The man who accused him of sexual harassment (a case also lost by those pursuing Slipper), James Ashby, now chief of staff for Pauline Hanson, was conspicuously absent from the unveiling.

The events of 2012 and 2013 took their toll on Slipper. At the portrait ceremony, he spoke of attempting to take his own life twice, and being checked in to a mental institution. Slipper’s portrait shows him in the formal garb he was so known for as a speaker, holding the rules book, and looming over all the other speakers. He was accused of wanting the job for the money. He would have done it for free, he said.

Among those gathered included current speaker Tony Smith, Liberal Senator and Senate President Stephen Parry, and Labor MPs Anthony Albanese and Joel Fitzgibbon. There seemed to be near unanimous agreement among those gathered that, whatever your view of Slipper’s behaviour outside of Parliament, or his saying “stupid things” to quote Danby, he was a good speaker who attempted to reform how the House of Representatives operated, in a way that would make it more interesting than the shouting match Slipper was present to endure in today’s question time.

Slipper’s reign stands in stark contrast to Bronwyn Bishop’s time as speaker. Before being brought down by her own expenses scandal, Bishop was one of the most partisan speakers to ever hold the role. By the end of her tenure, she had ejected 400 MPs from Parliament — 393 of which were Labor MPs. As Slipper seeks his own atonement in Parliament, it was revealed, by The Herald Sun this morning, that Bishop was forced to pay back close to $14,000 over her expenses scandal — repaying travel to three weddings (including Slipper’s) and Kerry Packer’s funeral. Rather than being chased through the courts as Slipper was, Bishop was allowed to quietly pay them back, as the review went on before the 2016 election.

Slipper had his expenses extensively reviewed back to 1999 — while Bishop immediately ceased working with the review (commenced under former prime minister Tony Abbott) once she lost preselection in Mackellar.

“On 5 May 2016, Mrs Bishop’s representative advised that as she was not continuing in the Parliament, she did not intend to continue her participation in the review. Following the dissolution of the Parliament on 9 May 2016, Mrs Bishop did not stand for re-election and her term as Member ceased,” the review’s report noted.

“As the Department is reliant on information provided by Mrs Bishop to fulfil its role in the exercise, no further assessment is possible in relation to the incomplete seven years.”

Bishop also claimed on Sky News last night that she is also being treated unfairly.

“Give me a break. We are talking about a helicopter ride, and some small expenses I also repaid plus 25%,” she said.

“I did nothing wrong … none of that had to do with my greed or my pleasure … What I was doing was my job.”

She claimed other expenses scandals involving Labor and Greens members, both federally and in Victoria, had not received nearly as much media attention. As Danby noted, Slipper was treated to no fewer than 12 front pages on The Daily Telegraph during his time as speaker. “Lady Di only got nine!” he exclaimed.

Peter Fray

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