Speaker steps down amid harassment claims

The Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, Peter Slipper, has stepped down until an allegation of criminal behaviour against him is resolved.

Slipper returned to Australia from the US yesterday amid allegations he misused Cabcharge dockets and unsubstantiated claims he sexually harassed an aide.

The allegations of sexual harassment and misused Cabcharges were filed in the Federal Court against Slipper, 62, by his former aide, James Ashby, on Friday, according to the Sunshine Coast Daily.

The married Queenslander was last night asked to vacate his role as a priest and chancellor in the traditional Anglican Communion.

Slipper said he emphatically denied the allegations.

“As such, I believe it is appropriate for me to stand aside as Speaker while this criminal allegation is resolved.”

The Sunshine Coast MP defected from the Coalition after a pre-selection battle for his seat of Fisher with former Howard government minister Mal Brough last year.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott insisted over the weekend that Prime Minister Julia Gillard intervene to force Slipper’s hand if the MP refused to step down voluntarily.

“This is a question of the prime minister’s judgment, her integrity, her sense of the standing of the parliament,” Abbott told reporters in Melbourne yesterday.

“She cannot afford to wash her hands of this, as she has washed her hands of the Craig Thomson matter,” Abbott said.

The deputy speaker, Labor MP Anna Burke, will become the Speaker if the legal process is not concluded before parliament resumes on May 8.

The government’s grip on power is even more tenuous in the Lower House as it prepares to try to pass the budget in May, with the allegations robbing the government of one more vote.


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