Today’s Question Time was unusually interesting. Unfortunately, as Jonathan Green pointed out, it quickly deteriorated to partisan lines.
Peter Slipper is Speaker in a hung parliament. As part of a civil court case against him, it was revealed that Slipper had sent particularly offensive text messages and had targeted a female member of parliament with abuse. Slipper does not deny sending the messages and has apologised for them.
The Opposition argue that the text messages demonstrate Slipper is incapable of being the Speaker of the House. The messages are offensive and they indicate that he has difficulty demonstrating impartiality. He has brought the office of the Speaker into disrepute. Further, knowing his views towards women, female members would have difficulty working collaboratively with him in future.
The ALP responds that the Leader of the Opposition is also a misogynist and yet holds a high office, thus the Opposition are hypocrites. The texts relate to a case which is currently before the courts. It is not the role of Parliament to preempt court cases, and people are entitled to procedural fairness.
The ALP’s argument is confused. The motion was on the basis of the content of the text messages, not on the basis of the civil case against him. Slipper admitted to sending the messages and apologised for their content. Thus, the question was whether the content of those messages was sufficient to remove Slipper from the position of Speaker.
For example, imagine that Cain is on trial for the murder of Abel. As part of that case, it is revealed that Cain was stealing from his employer (somehow, it was relevant to the case). Cain admits in public that it is true and that he is sorry for his actions. If his employer were to terminate Cain’s employment contract on the basis of this information, it would not be legitimate for some pro-Cain advocate to suggest that Cain’s employer was preempting the court case.
It’s a silly example but it conveys the important message: there is a difference between something revealed in the process of a case and something which is substantially the court case. If Parliament were to vote Slipper out of the position of Speaker, that would not be preempting the decision of the case.
Put it another way: if Slipper wins his civil case, would the messages be sufficient to remove him from office? It seems so. Either way, Slipper’s out of the Speaker’s chair. Either he loses his civil case (which would be grounds for his removal) or he wins his civil case (in which case the text messages are grounds for his removal).
The ALP’s claim that the Leader of the Opposition is just as terrible a human being as the Speaker doesn’t really have much relevance to the argument. Is the ALP suggesting that the Opposition Leader’s misogynistic attacks are appropriate in parliament? The moral quality of the Opposition Leader doesn’t have any bearing on the moral standing of the Speaker. They could both warrant reprimand from the Parliament.
The political reality is that the ALP is in a hung government. If they lose Slipper, there’s a good chance that they’d lose a vote of no confidence. Thus, we’re in a position where the ALP is clinging on to power at all costs. It is obscene that a person who admits to this sort of conduct could remain as Speaker of the House. It’s just obscene. If it weren’t for political necessity, Slipper would be gone.