Thursday, 26 April 2012

The "Slipper Affair" appears

to have caught the interest of a couple of regular non-Australian readers of this blog. They have asked if I can explain.
I am not sure that I can but the very fact that they have asked rather puts a lie to the comments by Bob Carr, our Foreign Minister, that people outside Australia are not interested. I imagine that anyone with an interest in who is in power in Australia will be watching.  Australians are watching too.
The (fairly) simple explanation is that Australians elected a government that cannot govern in its own right. The government did not get enough seats to do this. It depends on the votes of a number of "independents". Naturally they formed government by offering some of these "independents" certain deals.  With those votes they can (just) cling to power.
One of those deals was over reform to the legislation surrounding "poker" machines - the gambling machines used in hotels and clubs. This deal was made with a Tasmanian MP, Andrew Wilkie. The government had no intention of actually keeping the deal but they agreed in principle because it gave them a crucial vote. They had no intention of keeping it because government revenue from such gambling is high, hotels and clubs desperately want to keep their machines too. It also provides employment for many people - and misery for a great many others.  It is however cheaper and easier to keep the machines that try to develop other means of occupying and employing people.
The government delayed doing anything about the matter and then brought in a proposal that they claimed would allow them to see if the proposed legislation would work. It was a delaying tactic. Mr Wilkie recognised it as such and withdrew his support for the government. The loss of his vote was almost, but not quite, enough to cause the fall of the government.
They moved. They bought the vote of an Opposition member who had just lost (with good cause) pre-selection for his seat in Queensland. They offered him the role of Speaker. He resigned from his party and accepted the position. It was, some would say, a brilliant tactical move. They got the previous Speaker back on the floor of the house (no doubt with inducements of other sorts) and deprived the Opposition of a vote.  Numbers were once again wafer thin but workable. They have pushed through a number of pieces of highly unpopular legislation since then.
The problem now is that the Speaker has had to stand aside. The government was aware there were allegations surrounding him, allegations of sexual harrassment being dealt with as civil proceedings and allegations of misuse of public funds (relating to travel expenses) which are being dealt with as potential criminal matters. The Speaker cannot currently participate in parliament. He cannot vote even as an MP on the cross benches. The Deputy Speaker is a government member. The government needs the matter to be resolved urgently in order to shore up their wafer thin majority.
What will happen? I do not know.It may be that nothing much will happen at all.

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