Slipper's mistake here was to assume that Abbott is his own man. Any other Liberal leader would have told the Queensland LNP to back away from one of his supporters, but not the Situation. Abbott's performance is the issue here.
Let us not underestimate what a prize dingo Abbott is. When Abbott failed at the priesthood it was Turnbull who got him a job. When Turnbull stumbled in 2009, Abbott was right there with knife in hand.
Abbott started off by pointing out that Slipper's problems weren't Gillard's doing. As soon as the Prime Minister left the country he changed his tune, blaming Gillard for Slipper's antics directly. In the absence of the Prime Minister, those ministers who gave Rudd such a going-over should be giving Abbott the same treatment. Abbott respects strength and if you don't demonstrate it by smacking him around he gets cheeky, confusing good manners with weakness. He began to increase his media output beyond the tightly-scripted Daily Stunt, feeling heady enough to give a long-form interview.
Being comfortable with and proficient at handling experienced journalists in long-form interviews is a pre-requisite for any senior politician. Abbott is crap at long-form interviews. He can trot out his talking points, but if he is interrupted or challenged he just weakly repeats the interviewer's name, or tells a lie. The day following any such attempt includes a story focused on whatever lie or gaffe had tumbled out of his face, which almost certainly reinforces his nervy and risk-averse handlers' perception that their man should shirk the gauntlet that stands between him and the Lodge.
Note that Abbott chose Chris Uhlmann as his interlocutor. Abbott is the only politician Uhlmann interviews whom he does not talk over or interrupt. Every one of his other interview subjects cop this treatment, along with begged questions and beef-witted assumptions that have to be batted away before the question can be answered; Uhlmann's assumptions are clearly Abbott's assumptions, which is why he was content to hear Abbott in respectful silence. Uhlmann's treatment of Abbott compared with that of others is observable, objective fact, and it belies his ambitions (and those of his employer) to be regarded as an effective senior journalist.
Even so, Abbott's performance was still rubbish. He had little to say about the prospect of welfare cuts from his shadow treasurer, little to say about tobacco plain-packaging or changes to aged care (despite having been a former Health and Ageing Minister), little to say about other issues of great public importance. But my goodness, wasn't he voluble about some stray cabcharge vouchers and some sleazy comments. He's had a lot more to say against the pre-parliamentary antics Craig Thomson than he has against the in-office performance of Wayne Swan. That shows you where he's most comfortable; not grappling with the big issues, but down with rorting and rooting.
Slipper knows enough about Parliament both to uphold its dignity as the most effective Speaker in years, as well as knowing how to bend the rules to his advantage. It is tempting to turn a blind eye to the latter in order to secure the former, particularly when similar misdemeanours were brushed aside in 1997 by the Howard government (and again, apparently, in 2003 by Slipper himself). James Hunter Ashby is unconvincing as anything but a Liberal stool-pigeon, and it's hard to imagine his case going much beyond he-said-he-said and case dismissed.
Speaking of stool-pigeons, there is probably a Walkley in it for Steve Lewis to publish what was fed to him. Lewis should not only remember the allegations surrounding former High Court Justice Kirby allegedly using official vehicles to cruise for gay prostitutes, but give some consideration as to whether or not something similar is going on here. Lewis has no excuse for not joining the dots between Ashby, Godwin Grech and the Kirby allegations, and wondering if a Coalition government might not bring more sleaze than less.
It may well be an organisational problem for Lewis' employer, however, and to see that you don't need to go as far as his Chairman's testimony in London. This article and cartoon by two men who should know better, even though they work for Murdoch, is just sad:
Peter Slipper would not be able to make an appearance, official or otherwise, without attracting a barrage of titters and knowing smirks.A bit like Bill Clinton, twice-elected President of the United States, eh Malcolm? Like Bob Hawke? It's easy to get all upset about the homophobia in that piece but in an age of widespread public support for the Sydney Mardi Gras and same-sex marriage, homophobia is not the vote-winner/newspaper-seller that News Ltd executives still clearly imagine it to be.
Farr and Leak only remind us that you can't have homophobia without misogyny, and in an environment where sneer-at-the-queer has free rein a woman in high office has no chance. That's News Ltd's real target here: the Speaker is collateral damage aiming at the PM.
Slipper's only chance is to abandon the starchy outrage that he has shown so far and become some sort of old roué, toward whom everyone is awake-up but who is not only forgiven but regarded quite fondly for all that. Such a position would appear, however, to be beyond him. I hope Slipper returns to the chair and chucks the bums out until they learn to behave.
The irony for the Coalition is that a quiet confidence is far more unsettling to a government than rambunctious points-of-order, fatuous interjections and general chaos. They learned that themselves in 1995, they witnessed it again when Rudd flung it at them in 2007, and their current leader witnessed both at first hand. The fact that they have not learned this now only shows that the Coalition is led badly, indeed inadequately, by the incumbent. Against such a deficit of decency and common sense, whether or not Abbott is punctilious with his expenses and/or his private life is really neither here nor there.