Julia Gillard’s government on the brink after scandals leave party with fewer MPs than opposition
Julia Gillard’s shaky government moved further to the brink after she asked one of her own MPs, accused of misusing funds for prostitutes, to leave the party.
By Jonathan Pearlman, Sydney
2:09PM BST 29 Apr 2012
Declaring she wants to remove “a dark cloud” which hangs over the parliament, Ms Gillard also asked the embattled Speaker, Peter Slipper – who faces allegations of sexual harassment and misusing taxi charges – to remain suspended.
The move against the two MPs – Mr Slipper and Craig Thomson – has left the ruling Labour party with only 70 votes on the parliament floor, compared with 71 for the opposition.
Ms Gillard however is barely holding on as it still has the support of most of the six independents, plus a lone Green MP, and can rely on the casting vote of the Deputy Speaker, Anna Burke, who is a Labour MP.
Labour has been dogged for weeks by the two scandals surrounding the two MPs. Mr Thomson is under investigation over allegations he used a work credit card on prostitutes, lavish meals and cash withdrawals while a union official.
Mr Slipper, a former Liberal MP, was lured to the Speaker’s position last year to bolster the Government’s slim majority. But he stepped aside as Speaker a week ago over allegations involving the misuse of taxi vouchers as well as a civil lawsuit by a former aide, James Ashby, who accused him of sexual harassment.
Ms Gillard has sought to distance herself from the scandals ahead of the forthcoming budget which is vital to turning around her government’s deep unpopularity.
“I feel keenly that Australians are looking at this parliament and at the moment they see a dark cloud over it,” she said. “I want to ensure that Australians can look at this building, look at this institution and feel respect for this institution.”
Mr Thomson has insisted he is innocent but agreed to suspend his Labour membership to try to end the ongoing “distraction for the government”. He said he would support the government against any no-confidence motion and in supply bills.
“This is a matter that has gone on for about four years … I’ve had two baby girls in the time this investigation has gone ahead,” he said. “I am confident that in a reasonably short period of time the truth will out and I will be vindicated.”
Mr Slipper, too, has denied the allegations despite releasing taxi vouchers last week which he said disproved the fraud claims but only seemed to raise further questions. Some of the receipts recorded the same expenses for different journeys or were for trips in the middle of the night or trips that appeared unrelated to government business.
Ms Gillard faces an enduring run of dismal approval ratings and brewing speculation of a leadership challenge.
“Does she really think her explanation will be credible to an already deeply disillusioned public?” said Michelle Grattan, a political commentator for The Age. “Gillard presumably hopes people will see [the] spectacular gesture as a grand deck-clearing exercise. But it is all too late, and her explanation is too inadequate.”