A political manoeuvre to close off a turbulent year

New Speaker Peter Slipper | Source: News Ltd

Dylan Caporn – Opinion

The House of Representatives could not have put on a better send off to the 2011 political year. Resignation, number crunching, and an Opposition that is becoming increasingly powerless. 

MPs and other interested folk got their first inclination that this day was out of the ordinary when the Speaker stumbled, quivered almost, through the welcome to country.

Then, the bombshell. Harry Jenkins resigned after 1382 days in the big chair. Citing that he was “frustrated” with begin divorced from the ALP caucus room, and that he wanted to “be able to participate in policy and parliamentary debate”. 

Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, became suddenly suspicious, and started to delve. As did the media, and neither party had to dig too far, because almost immediately, the ALP caucus has endorsed the Member for Fisher, Peter Slipper.

Any keen political insider would have noticed the relationship between Mr Slipper and the Coalition had been frayed, but Tony Abbott could not afford to lose an MP. Even when the Member for Fisher accompanied the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to a primary school tour, at the same time as a LNP campaign launch with former Prime Minister John Howard, the Leader of the Opposition did not sack him.

After the endorsement, Abbott hurriedly called a press conference to say that any Coalition MP that accepted the nomination for Speaker, would have to resign from the party. All the meanwhile, Slipper was siting as Acting Speaker in the House.

A half an hour adjournment, then the bells rang. Before any other business could take place, the House had to elect a Speaker. Labor MPs Daryl Melham (Banks) and Michael Danby (Melbourne Ports) rose to nominate and second Peter Slipper respectively. A nomination the Member for Fisher dually accepted.

However, section 35 does not place a limit on the number of nominations for Speaker. A loophole Manager of Opposition Business, Chris Pyne, took advantage of by nominating every ALP member of the Speakers’ Panel. Anna Burke (Chisholm), Dick Adams (Lyons), Sid Sidebottom (Braddon), Sharon Bird (Cunningham), Kirsten Livermore (Capricornia), Steve Georganas (Hindmarsh), John Murphy (Reid), Maria Vamvakinou (Calwell) and Yvette D’Ath (Petrie) all turned down the nominations from the Member for Sturt.

To try and make it stop, the Member for New England, Tony Windsor nominated Pyne, because “It might be the only way we’ll get him to shut up.”

With no other nominations, Slipper was declared Speaker, and was dragged, as per tradition, past a very unhappy Abbott, to the chair. The new Speaker has shone in this role, throwing out four Coalition MPs by the end of the day.

However, Abbott took no time in releasing his spite, through a passive-aggressive congratulatory speech to the new Speaker. Then he cut question time short to move that –

“That this House censure the Prime Minister for presiding over a deceptive, dysfunctional and directionless government.”

What proceeded was ten minutes from a desperate and now increasingly less powerful Abbott. Ever since the resignation, Abbott has come to the realisation that he is no longer an extraordinary Opposition Leader, rather he is among the ranks of regular Opposition Leaders, and regular Opposition Leaders have an expiry date, extraordinary Opposition Leaders win elections. Abbott’s performance on 7.30 yesterday evening was just another of negativity, and humiliation.

The two people who get the most out of today are Julia Gillard and Peter Slipper. Slipper was facing an inevitable walk from the party room or the loss of his preselection. This way, he can finish his Parliamentary term in style, with an extra $100,000 in the bank each year, and a slightly better superannuation plan.

Julia Gillard has the obvious security of an extra vote on the floor of the House, and she is beginning to look more and more like a Prime Minister. It changes from the Gillard six months ago who was struggling to get her own way. After the last month of passing the carbon pricing scheme, mining tax, and now this, 2012 is set to be a major year in Australian politics.

Parliament has adjourned until 7 February 2012