Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard defended her appointment of Peter Slipper as Australia’s speaker yesterday after court documents alleged he used his position to pursue sexual relations with male employees.
The married Slipper, 62, stood aside from his role on Sunday after claims he harassed former staffer James Ashby, 33, with explicit text messages, unwanted advances and inappropriate comments between January and last month. He is also accused of fraudulently misusing taxpayer-funded taxi services.
In court documents published yesterday, Ashby accused Slipper of “using his position to pursue relationships of a sexual nature with young male employees.”
Ashby, who is openly gay, claimed the Australian Commonwealth knew that in 2003 Slipper had a sexual relationship with another younger male member of his staff.
He alleges the commonwealth “failed to take reasonable and effective steps to prevent [Mr Slipper] from utilizing his office to foster sexual relationships with young male staff members.”
Ashby is seeking compensation and orders for his former employer to undergo counseling and anti-discrimination training.
Slipper has denied all the allegations. Besides the civil proceedings over the harassment claim, he is also facing an investigation into the possible criminal misuse of taxi vouchers.
News Limited newspapers published more allegations yesterday, claiming he also breached rules relating to travel entitlements of members of parliament.
Slipper defected from Tony Abbott’s opposition Liberal Party last year so he could be appointed speaker. It stripped one vote from the opposition and shored up Julia Gillard’s ruling Labor Party’s wafer-thin hold on power.
Gillard said she had not spoken to him in recent days, but defended her judgement in engineering his promotion to the role last year.
“I don’t claim to know Mr Slipper personally or well but I formed a professional judgement about his ability to do the job,” she told reporters in Singapore.
“And Mr Slipper, as he has done his work as speaker, has kept firm control of the parliament particularly during what can be quite a raucous period — question time,” she added.
However, she said it was appropriate that he stood aside.
“Australians rightly expect parliamentarians to play by the rules and to uphold the respect and integrity of the Australian parliament,” she said.
With Slipper unable to vote while he stands aside, Gillard’s Labor government is on a parliamentary knife-edge, having their numbers in the lower house reduced to 74 while the opposition has 73 votes.