Australia is lurching headlong into a political scandal of the worst order. The current Speaker of the House of Representatives (the lower house in our bicameral parliamentary system), Peter Slipper [wiki], has temporarily resigned his position as a number of allegations against him are investigated. By all means go and read about them but be warned, they are unsavoury reading and the full court documents [pdf] are positively disgusting.
Once again, what is being revealed is a basic lack of integrity in those who’s duty it is to lead. In one sense we shouldn’t be surprised – a basic Biblical anthropology tells us that we are all sinners. Nevertheless, surely we expect those we have elected to be honourable and to take responsibility for their actions when their dishonour is revealed? But nowadays there is an ever-decreasing demand for integrity.
The problem starts with our media, before we even get to the politicians themselves. In yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald Lenore Taylor had an opinion piece, “Let’s remember what Peter Slipper is charged with, and what he is not”
But Mr Slipper is not on trial – at least not in any court – for the allegation that he sought sexual relationships outside his marriage, however distasteful people might find that idea.
Ministers and MPs have resigned when they have been found out having extra-marital sex – David Campbell and John Della Bosca from the former New South Wales legislature, for example.
If every MP who has ever had an affair, or ever tried to have an affair, was forced to resign, there would be some empty seats on both sides of federal parliament.
and rightly so! This nonsense idea that a politician’s “private life” has nothing to do with his ability to serve needs knocking on the head, and then clean out of the park. It seems to have been common in our Western culture since Bill Clinton scraped his way through explaining indiscretions that made him look like he had less self-control than a randy teenager. Someone’s ability to keep their marriage vows has everything to do with how they conduct themselves in public service for if one cannot be relied upon to attempt to keep the largest and longest-lasting promise that is ever made in life, how can we rely on any of the other lesser ones, even the large ones of state? And yes, I did put the marriage vow above oaths of office – that’s the point. Long after a married Prime Minister, President, or Speaker of a parliamentary house finishes that job they will still be married. It is a bigger vow. Simply put, once you’ve cheated on your wife or husband, who else can really trust you?
But that’s not even my main rant because the elevation of Peter Slipper to the role of Speaker, if the charges against him are true, indicate a lack of integrity on the part of the most senior politicians of our land. Consider this – Slipper came into the role through a piece of political shenanigans. Labour wanted to maintain their very slim majority and so a Liberal in the seat would be advantageous. On the opposition benches Slipper was, at best, unpopular. Moves were afoot to deselect him. He was bad news passed from one party into the hands of the other.
He was passed on with both parties, surely, knowing exactly what he was like. The sort of behaviour that Slipper is accused of, it true, most certainly did not start only when he took the Speaker’s chair. It is the nature of that kind of activity, compulsive and narcissistic that it is, that it would have been, at times, indiscreet. People would have known. Lots of people. Rumours spread. Just read the press and watch the coverage – the one thing that you don’t get in all the reporting is any sense of surprise! And because he was an MP that means the whips office would have known. Everything. That’s their job. And that means Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition Liberal party, must, surely, have known.
And it also means Prime Minister Julia Gillard must have known exactly what sort of a man she was conniving to place as the one person who represented the whole parliamentary system and, not least, it’s integrity. But they did it anyway.
They did it anyway.
Who knows why? We can surely make educated guesses. Perhaps Abbott thought that he was better off without him and it was now Gillard’s problem. An astute man would regard Slipper’s elevation as only hurrying on the eventual downfall of the government. Gillard, many would suggest, was keen to shore up her majority. Whatever it was, they would have known. It is inconceivable that they did not know of Slipper’s record of behaviour and yet for their own reasons they both allowed him to go forward. Like Pilate, neither can wash their hands of a wrong and place the blame elsewhere. Slipper, no innocent himself of course, passed through their hands.
This is a sorry mess, but the most sorry part of it is that there are far more people who need to take responsibility for it. They need to take responsibility for their part in bringing disgrace to our parliament. But you know they won’t. I’m beginning to wonder if we can find people of integrity anywhere. We’re a long way from Proverbs 11 at the moment.
Thank God for the one righteous man who took graciously responsibility for others’ wrongs when He Himself had none. If it were not for Him then I’m not sure what hope we could have.