SANDY ALOISI: Federal Labor's fragile hold on power is in new doubt today with the Speaker, Peter Slipper, standing down over claims of sexual harassment and misuse of travel entitlements. Mr Slipper says he will resume his post when he's cleared of the criminal charges related to the alleged misuse of Cabcharge dockets. But the Opposition says all charges, including the civil claims of sexual harassment lodged by a male staff member must be cleared before he returns. For a government view on the crisis facing Labor, Marius Benson is speaking here to the Trade Minister Craig Emerson.
MARIUS BENSON: Craig Emerson, Tony Abbott says the Prime Minister's judgement is fatally flawed. Was it a mistake for her to recruit Peter Slipper as Speaker?
CRAIG EMERSON: No it wasn't and Mr Abbott's judgement is absolutely crap because he applies two standards: one to the Liberal Party and one to everyone else. Mr Abbott was a supporter of Mr Slipper all through the period when Mr Slipper was preselected seven times; went to his wedding; as late as September last year he was defending Mr Slipper. The only thing that's really changed is that Mr Slipper no longer is a Liberal and therefore Mr Abbott regards him as fair game.
BENSON: So with hindsight you don't think it was a mistake to recruit Peter Slipper?
EMERSON: No, and all this does is reflect the frustration of the Coalition that they're not in government. They want to be in government. They want to get there the cheapest, easiest way possible and that is to seek to move a vote of no confidence in the Government. But all I seek is consistency: a single standard, not two standards. And we have Mr Abbott applying two standards: when he had a Member of Parliament in the last government – the Coalition government – and that Member of Parliament was actually under a police investigation, the Coalition accepted his vote more than 50 times, more than 50 times. Mr Abbott just needs to apply a single principle rather than multiple principles to suit his own purposes.
BENSON: The Opposition says Peter Slipper shouldn't come back even if criminal charges against him are cleared as he says he will, he should clear the civil charges of sexual harassment as well before returning as Speaker. Do you believe those should be cleared as well?
EMERSON: And here's the hypocrisy of the Liberal Party. Malcolm Turnbull was the subject of civil action when he was a minister in the Howard Government and Leader of the Opposition. We didn't call for him to stand aside. He didn't stand aside. Mr Abbott didn't believe he should stand aside.
BENSON: What do you think of the argument that your hold on power and legitimacy has now reached a point where you should go and ask the voters what they think, call an election?
EMERSON: This is the Coalition argument from the second day after the Government was formed – that there should be an early election. There's nothing new in that. What Mr Abbott wants is a cheap and easy way to The Lodge. It's not going to happen. The Australian people are getting stable government from the Gillard Government, and that point itself has been conceded by Christopher Pyne a few weeks ago who said this is a stable government; it's not effectively a minority government. It will run its full course. That's true. That's one statement that Christopher Pyne has made that is correct. The rest: complete crap.
BENSON: Craig Emerson, are people entitled to look at the Labor Government now and look at Peter Slipper, the person you recruited as Speaker; and at the same time look at Craig Thomson, the Labor MP who's facing claims of misuse of a union credit card for uses including prostitution, and think this Government is sleazy?
EMERSON: Let me make this statement: "It's a long-held principle of the way that we administer the law in this country that while a police investigation is going on people should not comment, draw conclusions about guilt or innocence, but should simply allow the investigations." They are the words of John Howard. I think it is reasonable to have one set of laws and one set of procedures, not two sets of laws in this country: one for everyone else and one for the Liberal Party. Hypocrisy, thy name is Liberal.
BENSON: How damaging is this for Labor?
EMERSON: Well we will continue to do what we've been doing and that is governing in Australia's long-term national interest and we will continue to do so.
BENSON: Craig Emerson, thank you very much.
EMERSON: Thanks Marius.
- Minister Emerson's Office: (02) 6277 7420
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555