JULIA GILLARD has been given quite some grief of late for appointing Peter Slipper to the Speaker’s chair, with gossipy sorts quite keen to learn how he managed to run up a $300+ cab charge in the course of a single night’s travels about Canberra. Now this really is a remarkable achievement, the ACT being a pocket handkerchief roughly 50 kilometres from border to border at its widest point. As the current tariff for cab trips after 9pm is $2.19 per kilometer, Slipper would have required three full trips from end to end in order to present taxpayers with such an invoice. The new Speaker has pointedly declined to explain where he went and what he was up to, a stonewall that can only lead the curious to wonder if the waiting-time tariff of $49 an hour might have contributed to the total sum. In the absence of a word from Slipper, speculation that his cab and driver sat outside some establishment or other until he had zipped up whatever business propelled him into the evening remains valid. While there are few certainties in politics – other than that Michelle Grattan will always find something to admire in our “devilishly clever” PM – it is the surest bet that Slipper’s nocturnal mystery mission will continue to be raised.
An ongoing headache for the government? An open sore subject to painful probing? Yes, that is likely, but it need not be. If our PM were to hunker down with spin-gali Bruce Hawker it would take but a few minutes to produce a strategy that could only enhance Slipper’s standing while doing the government that slipped him into the Chair a world of good.
First, there is the need to settle on a destination. Gillard and Hawker might persuade the Speaker to reveal that he is a pokies junkie, spent the evening losing money in Queanbeyan and is proof positive of the need for the state to regulate inappropriate individual behaviour.
The problem with that scenario, of course, is that Slipper would object to being identified as a degenerate gambler.
So why not sell him on the virtues of casting himself as a simple, straightforward, old-fashioned, garden-variety degenerate? If it were put to him that the cab was left waiting while he engaged in a de-briefing session with a carnal consultant, relativism would be his shield. Indeed, if judged against some parliamentary colleagues, he would emerge the very picture of probity.
Unlike, say, Craig Thomson, there would be no need for tall tales of a priapic doppelganger (with an identical signature, no less) who lingered in houses of pleasures while hospital floor-moppers and toilet-scrubbers picked up his bill. Who could object to the taxpayer covering transport costs if the remainder of the evening was drawn on the Speaker’s own pocket?
And it gets better. With earnest hand on heart, Slipper might then avow to never having bumped groins with a 12-year-old, as Tasmanian colleague Terry Martin was yesterday convicted of having done, apparently as a result of being exposed to medications for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. The judge declined to incarcerate Martin, thereby establishing with the full authority of the bench the lower limit of what these days is deemed acceptable conduct. If Slipper were to say all his girls were 18 or older, even the dirtiest of his sheets would come with a wonderfully clean smell – relatively speaking, of course.
None of this is to suggest that Slipper was gambling or schtupping. Indeed, for all we know, he might just as easily have been overcome by the sudden urge to find sacred ground, rattle of a quick rosary, say novena or two, perform an act of contrition and stuff a fistful of unused Commonwealth taxi vouchers in the poor box.
But it would be a mistake to admit as much. Just ask Tony Abbott how the press feels about Catholics.