Following Speaker of the House of Representatives Peter Slipper’s decision to step aside pending criminal investigations into alleged fraud with respect to expenses (the sexual misconduct allegations are a civil matter that will not affect his eligibility to retain his seat in the House), the Gillard minority government has lost a very important buffer vote in the Lower House. Speculation abounds as to whether they will have the numbers on the floor to pass the Budget on May 8 without his vote, especially since Andrew Wilkie remains rather miffed that his pokies reform legislation did not get through, and thus is viewed as possibly able to be swayed to vote against the Budget.
Looking psephologically though, the situation does not seem hopeless. Slipper’s vote was a buffer vote, not a crucial vote. His replacement in the Speaker’s chair, Labor Deputy Speaker Anna Burke, will still have a casting vote if the matter goes to a tie on the floor, so that in the worst case scenario where the Coalition managed to convince Andrew Wilkie, along with already Opposition-leaning indedpendents Tony Crook and Bob Katter, to vote against the Budget, her vote would still ensure that the government’s legislation will go through.
It’s still a heavy tactical blow, and there are many questions raised about matters of judgement and ethical standards as exhibited by several persons in this particular scandal. However, it’s not necessarily a dissolution-dealing blow.