Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says the prime minister will come to regret elevating Liberal MP Peter Slipper to the Speakership, even though the embattled Queensland MP was about to be sacked by his own party.
The Labor minority government effectively gained two extra votes in the lower house on Thursday when Harry Jenkins stood down to return to the backbench and was replaced by Mr Slipper.
Mr Slipper, who has quit the Liberal National Party (LNP) to sit as an independent, has previously faced allegations over his use of parliamentary travel and other allowances.
He most recently upset the Queensland LNP after inviting Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd on a school tour in his electorate at the same time as former coalition prime minister John Howard was visiting nearby.
“There’s no doubt Peter Slipper has been a problem over the years, but he’s now Julia Gillard’s problem and she may well find that he’s an interesting one,” Mr Abbott told the Nine Network on Friday.
He admitted Mr Slipper’s future with the LNP had been in doubt but did not think that all Labor MPs would be happy with the move.
“I think a lot of people in the Labor Party today are saying we have replaced Harry Jenkins with what?” Mr Abbott said.
Yet Independent MP Tony Windsor says the federal coalition doesn’t have clean hands when it comes to the Speaker role because it offered him the job last year during talks about forming overnment.
Mr Windsr says the Coalition has form when it comes to offering the Speaker role to gain a benefit because he was offered the position by opposition MPs before Labor regained power at the last election.
Labor’s chief whip, Joel Fitzgibbon, denied the government had pressured Mr Jenkins into making way for Mr Slipper, who was nominated as Speaker by the government.
“That’s just ridiculous,” Mr Fitzgibbon told ABC radio.
When Mr Jenkins accepted the role of Speaker after the 2010 election, he was required not to attend Labor caucus meetings or liaise too closely with fellow MPs for fear of being accused of bias.
“It even denied him the opportunity to have dinner with his colleagues … for fear of being accused of being too close to one particular party,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
He said Mr Jenkins’ decision had been his alone, adding that his colleague was in high spirits when the two had dinner together on Thursday night.
Mr Abbott said Ms Gillard had demonstrated she would do whatever it took to shore up her power.
“Our party was trying to manoeuvre Peter Slipper out of the parliament, and now of course the prime minister has given him the biggest job in the parliament,” he said.
“I think all in all, a pretty dodgy year for a pretty dodgy government.”
Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said he had visited Mr Slipper’s electorate last week, but had not discuss the issue with his fellow Queenslander.
“No, it wasn’t discussed,” he told reporters in Sydney.
“Do you seriously expect that I was somehow in the confidence of what was in Mr Jenkins’ mind? It simply wasn’t the case.”
Meanwhile, Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie says Ms Gillard has assured him Labor remains committed to his proposed gambling reforms.
The change of Speaker and Mr Jenkins’ move to the backbench means there is less pressure on the government to deliver on its promise to Mr Wilkie to set betting limits on poker machines.
“She assured me again that nothing has changed,” he told ABC television.
“They are not going to cut me loose.”
FEW FANS BACK HOME
The Queensland government says Mr Slipper’s decision to abandon the Liberal National Party shows they’re a risky bet for the state’s voters.
Attorney General Paul Lucas says the federal MP’s decision to quit the LNP to become Speaker shows the party is plagued by instability.
He’s told ABC radio last month’s defection of state LNP MP Shane Knutgh to Bob Katter’s Australian Party is further proof of disunity.
But Deputy Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls says LNP members will be disappointed with Mr Slipper’s decision, and the matter is drawing attention away from the party’s state election campaign.