On the day news came through that it had been found Peter Slipper had dishonestly used parliamentary taxi vouchers to travel to wineries, callers started ringing in to the radio program I was presenting.
Some said that in the scheme of things, misusing taxpayer funds to the tune of $954 didn’t seem like that big of a crime.
Most commented on what they saw as his colossal arrogance which apparently led him to think that he could get away with it.
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During my time in the media (pretty much my whole life) the lawyers have told me I mustn’t presume to know what’s in someone’s mind.
Now I don’t intend to start by trying to second guess Peter Slipper’s motivations, but on the known facts, it’s hard to understand why someone would apparently throw away what he had for less than a thousand bucks.
It’s possible he may lose his retirement benefits – presently worth $157,000 after his 23 years as an MP.
But that’s just the money – granted more money than most of us are likely to get to see us through our golden years.
But he was also risking it all while he was in the highest parliamentary position in Australia.
Why would anyone put such a prestigious position on the line for such small change?
Way back (long enough for the statute of limitations to have long since expired) I remember hearing about an announcer attempting to rig a competition on his radio station so his wife could win the prize – a washing machine.
I just couldn’t see the upside in putting your credibility, your job and whatever position you might enjoy in the community on the line for something that could be purchased at any appliance store for a few hundred dollars.
But he was just a radio announcer – whether the public at large took any notice of what he did or said or even tuned in to hear was entirely optional.
But Peter Slipper was the Speaker in Australia’s Federal Parliament.
The guilty verdict as reached by ACT Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker came after three attempts to have the charges thrown out over a period of about eight months.
On one occasion Mr. Slipper’s lawyers tried to get the charges against him dismissed under the Mental Health Act because of his state of mind.
(Interesting how some lawyers can see into a man’s soul or have experts on tap who can do it for them, despite warning others – myself included – against exactly that).
But Magistrate Walker was having none of it.
She ruled that in the public interest the trial should go ahead.
So the system can work on behalf of the ordinary taxpayer, even when someone like Peter Slipper, a man in an exalted position who apparently thinks he is above it because of who he is or how he sees it, comes before a court.
They say, it’s not the crime it’s the cover-up.
Why didn’t he just give the money back, or even better, meet the cab fare out of his own pocket in the first place?
I have to throw in my lot with those who call arrogance.
Ever see that classic movie The Hustler?
Screen legend Paul Newman plays Fast Eddie Felsen – a man very good at what he does: making a living by hustling the rubes for money playing Pool.
He does this mainly by pretending he’s just a regular feller who’s had too much to drink and is making some reckless calls but then miraculously pulls off amazingly lucky shots thus taking money from the punters without them realising they’ve been conned.
Credit where it’s due, Peter Slipper was a good speaker.
He showed backbone on more than one occasion.
Was that as a result of his “self belief”?
(That would be arrogance showing its acceptable side).
A critical turning point for Fast Eddie’s came the night he decided to not just take money from the punters, but also rub their noses in it properly by showing just how very good he really was.
The yokels didn’t take well to that.
They told him how pool sharks weren’t much liked in them there parts.
Then, to emphasise the point, took him outside and broke his thumbs.
Slippery Pete, like Fast Eddie, rubbed our noses in it by not just taking our money but also letting us know in his opinion he was entitled to do just that via the several and varied appeals which made this the long drawn out court case it became.
He’ll be sentenced on September 22nd.
Don’t know what he’ll get, but I predict it won’t be broken thumbs.
Those painful injuries took a while to heal, but Fast Eddie did get back in the game.
Slippery Pete on the other hand is out of mainstream politics for good.
Mike Jeffreys is best known as a talk radio host and for his appearances on panel discussion programs including Paul Murray Live on SKYNEWS and Channel 9’s Morning Show.