THE installation of Peter Slipper as speaker in the Federal Parliament is another dent in the stability of the Labor Government.
The controversial independent MP stood aside as Speaker on Sunday pending inquiries into allegations he misused taxpayer-funded Cabcharge dockets.
Mr Slipper also faces civil claims he sexually harassed a former male aide, which are due to go before the Federal Court in Sydney next month. He has strenuously denied all the allegations.
Whether the allegations made against Mr Slipper are found to be true or otherwise, there’s no doubt that the respect of the Australian people in him has been irreparably damaged.
Standing down from his position was the only manageable course of action in the circumstances and serves to avoid a messy parliamentary vote on his immediate future.
While Mr Slipper’s position is damaged, the impact on Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who worked to install him in the first place, is now under even more scrutiny.
What looked like a political masterstroke has turned into a devastating blow.
While Labor might still have the numbers to pass its budget and other pieces of crucial legislation, its already tenuous hold on power has again been weakened.
Together with the suspicions surrounding the actions of Labor MP Craig Thomson, there is no space for Labor to sell its policy messages to its constituents. Simply, the focus on scandal is clearly outweighing real political debate.
Calls from the Opposition to hold an election continue – as has been a common theme since the 2010 poll – but this time it may be more relevant.
The public is fast losing confidence in the government’s ability to maintain a semblance of balance amid continuing controversy and while the Prime Minister has managed to push through a meaningful policy agenda, aspects of this remain highly unpopular.
If Mr Slipper is to return to the Speaker’s chair, it will be a constant reminder of Ms Gillard’s actions to recruit him. If he is found guilty, Ms Gillard will be blasted for poor judgment.
How Ms Gillard deals with these challenges will provide another dot point in a parliamentary term which has been littered with defining moments which have been met and, for good or bad, dealt with. The collateral damage along the way can only be repaired for so long.