CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s tenuous grip on power was strengthened on Wednesday when a court threw out a sexual harassment case against parliament’s former speaker after months of damaging attacks by the opposition.
The court finding means that Peter Slipper, who sits as an independent, is likely to serve out his full term in parliament, shoring up the stability of the minority Labor government and reducing the chance of an election before the second half of 2013.
In a rare win for the government after a brutal year in politics, Federal Court judge Steven Rares said the case, brought on by Slipper’s staffer James Ashby, was designed to cause political damage.
“I have reached the firm conclusion that Mr Ashby’s predominant purpose for bringing these proceedings was to pursue a political attack against Mr Slipper and not to vindicate any legal claim he may have,” Rares said.
Slipper was forced to resign as speaker over the allegations after transcripts of lurid and offensive text messages to a gay staffer were made public.
Ashby said he was disappointed his case had been rejected, and said he would examine the judgment and seek to appeal the decision.
The allegations against Slipper have damaged the government for most of 2012, with the opposition attacking Gillard for backing Slipper and for accepting his vote in parliament.
Gillard’s steadfast defense of Slipper led to a fiery speech in parliament in October, where she accused opposition leader Tony Abbott of being “misogynist”. The speech becoming a global internet hit.
Gillard’s minority government has a one-seat majority in parliament and relies upon a clutch of independents and Greens to hold onto power.
Slipper, a former conservative opposition lawmaker, has no formal deal to support Gillard, but he is considered highly unlikely to vote against the government in any no-confidence motion.
Reporting by James Grubel; Editing by Robert Birsel