Slipper stands down in face of sex harassment, fraud claims
The Speaker of Federal Parliament, Peter Slipper, has stood down in the wake of a growing scandal involving allegations of fraud and sexual harassment against a young male staffer.
Slipper, who is an ordained priest with the Anglican Catholic Church in Australia, is also expected to stand down from his position as chief legal adviser to Archbishop John Hepworth, who heads the breakaway Traditional Anglican Communion.
A married father of two, Slipper (pictured) is facing an Australian Federal Police investigation into the misuse of Cabcharge vouchers and other travel entitlements.
The Independent MP for Fisher who defected from the Liberal Party late last year to take up the role as Speaker of the House of Representatives also faces claims from a former media adviser, James Ashby, that he engaged in “unwelcome sexual advances, unwelcome sexual comments and unwelcome suggestions of a sexual nature” over a number of months earlier this year.
In a civil application filed with the Federal Court last Friday, Ashby has alleged Slipper’s conduct, which allegedly involved a series of lewd text messages, has left him suffering “considerable stress, humiliation and illness and is currently seeking medical assistance”.
According to the documents, Ashby said Slipper had on numerous occasions offered him a job as a media adviser soon after finding out that he was gay mid-last year.
Having decided to take the job in December 2011, Ashby alleges that he was the victim of sexual harassment between January and March of this year, beginning with an incident in a Canberra flat during which Slipper began moaning in a sexual fashion after asking for a neck massage.
The court documents state on the morning of January 14, 2012 Slipper then asked Ashby: “Have you ever c--- in a guy’s a--- before?”
A few weeks later, Slipper is alleged to have also asked Mr Ashby: “Twinks or Bears - what are you into?”
The court documents also state that in 2003, Tony Nutt, a senior adviser to then-Prime Minister John Howard was made aware of a video which allegedly showed Slipper entering the bedroom of an unnamed junior male staffer via a window, before lying on the bed and hugging the staffer “in an intimate fashion”.
Ashby has filed his legal application against Slipper and the Commonwealth under the Fair Work Act 2009 alleging that he was discriminated against.
Slipper returned to Australia from New York over the weekend and in the face of mounting pressure said in a statement that he would be standing down from his parliamentary position until criminal allegations against him were resolved.
“Any allegation of criminal behaviour is grave and should be dealt with in a manner that shows appropriate regard to the integrity of our democratic institutions,” Slipper said.
“As such, I believe it is appropriate for me to stand aside as Speaker while this criminal allegation is resolved.”
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has accepted Slipper’s decision to stand down, saying that it was “appropriate”.
Nutt has since said he did not act on the 2003 allegations as he was informed the relationship was consensual, while Coalition Leader Tony Abbott has denied there was a formal complaint made against Slipper in the past.
It has also come to light that Ashby himself is no stranger to controversy, having been reported to police by the Sunshine Coast Daily after he allegedly threw a journalist's phone into the bush earlier this year during a press conference.
In 2002, Ashby was forced to resign from Newcastle radio station NX-FM after pleading guilty to using a carriage service in an offensive manner in relation to a number of threatening and obscene phone calls to a rival radio host.
On Sunday, it was also revealed that Archbishop Hepworth would ask Slipper to stand down as chancellor of the Traditional Anglican Communion formed independently of the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1991 in reaction against the ordination of women and increasing acceptance of homosexuality and gay priests within Anglican churches.
"It is right for anyone accused of serious misconduct in public life, whether in church life or political life, to stand aside until the processes of justice reach a conclusion,” Hepworth told The Australian.
“I have agonised over it because we have been friends for a long time and I greatly respect his work both in the church and in the parliament.
“I am a longstanding friend of both Peter and his wife, Inge, about whom I am extremely concerned. I also greatly respect his voting record in parliament on a range of contentious moral issues.”