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Key Lawmakers Stand By Aussie Gov’t Over Scandal

by Rod McGuirk
Monday Apr 23, 2012

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) - Key independent lawmakers said on Monday they will stand by Australia's embattled government after the parliamentary speaker temporarily stepped aside over allegations of sexual harassment and fraud.

The opposition has called on independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott to bring down the minority government with a no-confidence vote in response to the scandal enveloping the government's choice of House of Representatives speaker, Peter Slipper.

Slipper stepped aside Sunday while police investigate allegations leveled by a former staffer last week that Slipper misused taxi payment vouchers while traveling by limousine in Sydney on three occasions this year.

The same staffer, James Ashby, 33, is also suing Slipper in the Federal Court for sexual harassment, alleging that Slipper only employed him as a media adviser in pursuit of gay sex. Slipper, 62, who is married with two adult children from a previous relationship, denies all allegations.

Oakeshott described the scandal as the "darkest days" of the Parliament since it was elected in 2010. But he said it did not affect his pledge to support Prime Minister Julia Gillard's minority Labor Party government.

"I still hope we live in a country where people are innocent until proven guilty even if they are high-profile members of Parliament holding the highest office in the Australian Parliament," Oakeshott told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Windsor said his agreement with Gillard to support her government had not been breached.

"I haven't seen anything that would breach the agreement," Windsor said. "If there's corrupt activity (within government) or maladministration, let's see it."

The Greens party, which supplies a third lawmaker to support the government, issued a statement maintaining support and warning against Parliament acting like a court.

The opposition needs at least two of these three lawmakers to defect to bring down the government with a vote of no confidence when Parliament next sits on May 8. Such a motion would need at least 76 votes in the 150-seat House of Representatives.

Slipper defected from the opposition in November last year to take the speaker's job in a move that effectively gave Gillard's minority government an additional vote - 76 in the chamber.

An independent lawmaker, Andrew Wilkie, has since withdrawn his support for Labor, leaving Gillard with command of exactly half the chamber.

Labor lawmaker Anna Burke has become acting speaker. Because speakers can only vote to break a tie, her promotion effectively deprives Labor of a vote in most cases.

But the absence of Slipper's vote creates the possibility of a 74-vote tie, in which the speaker's casting vote would come into play for the government.

Gillard on Monday defended her choice of Slipper for the job.

"I don't claim to know Mr. Slipper personally or well, but I formed a professional judgment about his ability to do the job," Gillard told reporters in Singapore.

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