Slippery Slope

Just when you think the Australian Parliament cannot throw up any more surprises, it almost spins out of control.

Peter Slipper, the Speaker of the House who has been mired in allegations of sexual harassment and scandal, finally did the right thing and resigned. This came just hours after the government, led by Julia Gillard, defended his continuing in the role.

It suggests that Mr Slipper, for all his personal peccadilloes, has better judgment than our Prime Minister.

The vitriolic debate conducted by the Gillard Government descended into personal smears and attacks, principally against the Leader of the Opposition. Launching a fusillade of abuse decrying Tony Abbott as a misogynist and sexist, even Julia Gillard’s hibernating conscience seems to have been stirred from its slumber.

Her attack was launched during what was effectively a motion of no confidence in the House Speaker. The motion was brought on by his degrading and insulting text messages relating to women. Not a word of condemnation about these messages and how they diminished the Speaker’s position in the parliament passed the Prime Minister’s lips. Instead, she launched an attack on a husband and father to three daughters, decrying him in the most un-parliamentary terms.

It was a similar pattern from the sensitive souls in what people are calling the ‘handbag hit squad’. Nicola Roxon was silent about Mr Slipper’s slip-ups, choosing instead to blame Tony Abbott’s dislike for her as being a result of her gender. I’m sure it has nothing whatsoever to do with her poor performance in her portfolio. Her personal antipathy to Tony Abbott certainly doesn’t explain why she voted to keep Peter Slipper in the Chair despite portraying herself as a ‘champion of feminism’. Tanya Plibersek chose to support Peter Slipper too. In doing so, she created a serious credibility gulf between her faux outrage at the merest slight and her silence on genuinely offensive matters of principle.

Of course, after the fact, they have all claimed that Peter Slipper has ‘done the right thing’. On that they are quite correct. However, they haven’t been able or willing to explain why they didn’t do the right thing when they had the opportunity.

This goes right to the heart of what the public perceives to be the problem with modern politics. Australians simply do not trust many of their politicians to put the national interest ahead of their personal or party interest.

Whilst this lack of trust has been building for some time, it took a dramatic leap with the ascension of Julia Gillard into the Prime Ministership. Her betrayal of Kevin Rudd and subsequent denials of being complicit in his downfall have proved hollow.

Her pre-election promise not to introduce a carbon tax has rightly been regarded as one of the greatest deceptions in Australian political history.

The lack of accountability and explanation of her professional conduct prior to entering parliament raise many more eyebrows.

Her team are also complicit in fostering community distrust, slavishly repeating the ‘daily lines’ with little or no regard for the veracity of their claims.

As the public distrust has grown, the tempo within the parliament has increased. The debate (if you can call it that) has become more intense, more vitriolic and much more personal.

In the end, it might mean something to those inside the beltway but it has a diminishing interest to the rest of Australia. They are much more interested in how their parliamentarians can help control the spiralling cost of living, encourage business growth and get our nation back on the right track.

Unfortunately, I think they’ll be waiting until after the next election to have their hopes realised.

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