BELINDA HEGGEN: What an end to a tumultuous day in Federal Parliament yesterday, of course, which finished off in grand style last night – I was glued to ABC 24 last night – with the shock resignation of controversial Speaker Peter Slipper, but only hours after fierce debate in which the Prime Minister and members of Government defended him to the hilt despite the revelations and the release of those vulgar text messages he sent, so vulgar we can’t even describe them today – suffice to say he likened female genitalia to seafood and he called a female Labor Member a name that I’m not even allowed to say on radio, nor would I care to say. You get the picture, folks. As I said yesterday afternoon, I thought it was a questionable tactic from the Prime Minister yesterday to defend Peter Slipper, given she’s fought tooth and nail for months on Labor’s moral crusade to paint Opposition Leader Tony Abbott as a sexist and a misogynist. Now, my main problem with this is that you cannot have it both ways, Prime Minister. Many of the nation’s columnists, including The Australian‘s Peter van Onselen, quite rightly in my view question whether it’s at all possible for Julia Gillard and the Labor Party today to have more egg on their collective faces than they do right now. Fancy spending the entire afternoon yesterday in Parliament, in Federal Parliament, defending the bloke only to have him resign in disgrace by night time! Now, the Prime Minister, though, is being lauded today across the globe on feminist websites and in media, as far away as the UK and the United States this afternoon, for standing up for women’s rights. We’ll get to that in a moment but waiting on the line I’ve got representatives from both sides of politics here in South Australia. Steve Georganas, the Federal Member for Hindmarsh and now recently elected the Second Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives… Steve, great to have your company today.
STEVE GEORGANAS: Great to be on your show, Belinda.
BELINDA HEGGEN: And congratulations on your new title.
BELINDA HEGGEN: And also joining me on the line is Liberal Senator for South Australia Mr Simon Birmingham. Simon, thank you for your time.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good afternoon, Belinda. Good to be with you and your listeners.
BELINDA HEGGEN: Now, let’s start with you, Steve. As I said, congratulations on your new role but what a disaster for the Government yesterday!
STEVE GEORGANAS: Well, look, I think the way that things turned out yesterday, the former Speaker, Speaker Slipper, did the right thing, knowing that his position was untenable, and resigned, so therefore we went ahead today, or last night, with an election for another Speaker where Anna Burke, the Deputy Speaker, was elevated to the Speaker’s position and then we had to elect a Deputy Speaker and I nominated for that. I wasn’t successful during that election and we elected the Member for Maranoa, Bruce Scott.
BELINDA HEGGEN: Steve, to interrupt you there, you said Mr Slipper’s position was untenable but your Government was fighting tooth and nail to defend him and to keep him from being sacked.
STEVE GEORGANAS: Yeah, well, look, the issue here is that there are court cases and they’re still pending their final decision making and certainly you don’t want to crucify anyone whilst that process is going on. Having seen the revelations of those text messages and other things, I think he did the right thing by coming into the Parliament last night and resigning and I think it was the only thing that could be done.
BELINDA HEGGEN: Simon Birmingham, you heard Steve Georganas describe Mr Slipper as being crucified and yet we see the Prime Minister and her colleagues crucifying your boss, Tony Abbott, for being a misogynist.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Belinda, firstly, with the Peter Slipper matter, this is why so many Australians are scratching their heads today, when they hear Steve Georganas and other Labor MPs say that Peter Slipper did the right thing by resigning, yet just hours earlier they had voted to keep him in his job and that really is what will baffle many people – why on earth, how on earth, can you defend what Peter Slipper did but then say he should resign over it? He should have resigned over it. He equally should have been sacked over it and they had the chance to do that and yet they were happy to keep him there and the Hansard record of the Parliament will forever show that Steve Georganas, Julia Gillard and every Labor MP voted to keep Peter Slipper in the job, having seen the awful, disgusting, revolting text messages that he had been sending talking about women in such a derogatory way. As for the Prime Minister and her approach to Tony Abbott… well, I think many Australians now are feeling that every time the Prime Minister faces some criticism she seems to claim sexism and that really is a terrible indictment on the Prime Minister and is doing nothing to advance either the debate around what should be good policy issues in Australia or, of course, the cause for women who rightly should be occupying some of the highest offices in this land, as they do, but do so on the manner where they’re treated just as anybody else who would be holding that office and face the same criticism as a man or anybody else.
BELINDA HEGGEN: Steve, your response to that?
STEVE GEORGANAS: Well, look, my response to that is should the Leader of the Opposition resign for standing in front of a sign which was very derogatory to the PM and women and we all know which sign that was and I’m not going to repeat the language that was on that sign that Tony Abbott quite comfortably sat in front and addressed the crowd who were berating the PM and calling her all sorts of names? Now, should he resign from his position as Leader of the Opposition for doing that and being quite comfortable in front of that sign addressing a crowd who was being very berating? Now, the thing is that the Speaker last night decided to resign from his position as Speaker and that was the right thing to do. I think all of us agreed with that and…
BELINDA HEGGEN: But, no, to interrupt you, Steve, you didn’t think it was the right thing to do because you were defending him only hours earlier.
STEVE GEORGANAS: Well, look, I think when there’s a court case and it’s pending, by having him come into the House on his own volition, by his own decision, and stepping down was the right thing to do because when there’s a question over that particular position – and the Speaker’s position is a very, very important position in the House. It…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: But, Steve, it’s not about the court case. It was about the text messages.
STEVE GEORGANAS: Would you allow me to finish, please? I never butted in when other people were speaking. It’s very important that… there is a court case… that that process takes place. Now, when the Speaker came in, he did it of his own decision making, which was the right thing to do and everyone agreed with that yesterday.
BELINDA HEGGEN: Simon Birmingham, I would argue it was only the right thing to do because Independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott said it was ‘the right thing for you to resign’.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, that’s right. Clearly a dirty deal was done between the Government and the crossbenchers to say ‘we will spare the Government a defeat on the floor of the House as long as this guy resigns’ and that’s what Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor and the Independents basically forced so let’s not pretend that there’s anything holier than thou about this and we shouldn’t allow the issue to be conflicted with the court case that may be going on. The issue under debate yesterday was whether or not Peter Slipper had brought the office of the Speaker, and therefore the Parliament of Australia, into disrepute because of the things he had said and done that had then been published. The court case is irrelevant to that. There was no dispute that he had said the things in those text messages that had been made public, that they were grotesquely offensive and that he was no longer fit to hold the office of Speaker. That’s why the Opposition moved to remove him from that office and it’s just shameful that Steve and Julia Gillard and others weren’t willing to see that that is what should have happened all along.
BELINDA HEGGEN: Now, there has been much conjecture about whether the Coalition will accept Peter Slipper’s vote from the crossbenches.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, Belinda, there is some conjecture around that but I think, on this, that’s where the court case does come into play. Peter Slipper’s still a Member of this Parliament, he is not facing criminal charges or anything of that sort, he will choose how he votes and I think this morning, so I see on some news reports, he’s voted with the Labor Party on whatever the matters under consideration were – probably voted for you earlier today, Steve, I expect and congratulations on your appointment.
STEVE GEORGANAS: Thank you, Simon, but can I just say that Peter Slipper is still the elected Member for Fisher. If you deny Peter Slipper a vote, you’re denying the people of Fisher a representation in this Parliament. The only ones that can deny Peter Slipper a vote are his constituents at the next election, so let’s keep that into perspective – that we’re not here representing ourselves, we’re here representing our electorates and our electorates have every right to have representation in this Parliament, so how Peter Slipper votes I don’t know and I haven’t had discussions with him, I’m not privy to any discussions, but I’m sure he’ll look at each and every issue and vote what he feels fit for his constituency.
BELINDA HEGGEN: Now, gentlemen, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has fronted the media today defending his line that the Government should die in shame over their defence in Parliament of former Speaker Peter Slipper. Simon Birmingham, the choice of words perhaps the wrong ones?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, look, Belinda, I think perhaps not absolutely ideal but Tony has used those words many, many times before – many times before Alan Jones used words that were quite different and quite pointed in a very nasty way. These were words that were directed at the Government and have been used, as I say, many times previously and indeed this Government does have much to be ashamed about and, really, what we’re seeing in terms of the life of this Parliament and the life of this Government seems to be a tragic soap opera of mishaps and missteps and changing Prime Ministers and changing Speakers and it’s little wonder…
BELINDA HEGGEN: What is it – the third Speaker in as many years?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The third Speaker in the life of this Parliament – the third Speaker, effectively, in less than 12 months because it was only in December last year, November/December last year that Mr Slipper assumed the office so we have seen so many changes, so much uncertainty surrounding the operation of this Government and of course so much of it stems from Julia Gillard’s backstabbing of Kevin Rudd in their first term of office.
BELINDA HEGGEN: Steve Georganas, I’ll leave the final word with you.
STEVE GEORGANAS: Look, I think if you have a look at this particular Parliament, we have, as I said today in the Parliament, we have Standing Orders and the rules in the Parliament that ensure that this Parliament works smoothly and that our democracy works smoothly even in a situation as we have at the moment where we have a hung Parliament, we have seen over 200 bills passed through Parliament, through the House of Reps, and we have seen many good things, many good policies that have been put into fruition [unclear] there is a catastrophe and everything is a disaster we’re still one of the best economies in the world, one of the lowest unemployment figures in the world, we’ve got… created over 3000 jobs since we’ve been in government and, you know, three Speakers… so be it. The makeup of the Parliament is such where that’s our democracy, that’s how it’s made up with Independents, with members of the Labor Party, members of the Liberal Party and they determine how the Parliament operates, so that’s how…
BELINDA HEGGEN: Alright, well, look, we’ll have to leave it there but congratulations on your appointment…
BELINDA HEGGEN: … to Second Deputy Speaker and, Steve Georganas and Simon Birmingham, we appreciate your time this afternoon.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thanks, Belinda.