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May 30, 2017

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Aus parliamentary speaker quits over sex scandal

SYDNEY -- Australia's parliamentary Speaker Peter Slipper announced his resignation Tuesday, hours after surviving a motion to sack him for lurid text messages he sent to a former staffer.

Conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott had called for Slipper to be removed, saying he was not a "fit and proper" person for the office after court documents revealed text conversations Slipper had with ex-staffer James Ashby, who has accused him of sexual harassment.

The texts included one in which Slipper called a conservative female politician an "ignorant botch (sic)" and another in which he said women's genitalia looked "like a mussell (sic) removed from its shell."

Abbott's motion was defeated 69 votes to 70 but Slipper later told parliament he would resign. "I leave this position without rancor and with a great deal of sadness," he said.

Slipper's resignation will be a blow to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who last year engineered his promotion to speaker after he defected from Abbott's Liberal Party.

The move lost the opposition one vote and shored up her wafer-thin hold on power.

Earlier in the day the issue had produced heated addresses in the parliament, with Abbott saying that every day Gillard defended Slipper would be "another day of shame for this parliament, another day of shame for a government which should already have died of shame."

Gillard hit back, accusing Abbott of sexism and hypocrisy.

"What the leader of the opposition should be ashamed of is of his performance in this parliament and the sexism which he brings with it," she said.

The unmarried Gillard said she had been offended by many of Abbott's remarks over the years, including that she should "make an honest woman of herself" politically and a comment that abortion was "the easy way out."

"I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man," she railed in parliament as she pointed at Abbott.

"I will not, and the government will not, be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man, not now, not ever."

"If he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn't need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror," she added.

Slipper stood aside in April amid claims of gay sex harassment and travel fraud, while proclaiming his innocence and slamming a "trial by media."

The travel fraud claims were later withdrawn. But the sex harassment case, in which the married Slipper is accused of sending former aide Ashby inappropriate text messages, is ongoing.

Slipper has apologized for the messages, which he said were intended as private and many of which had been sent before he became speaker.

He also praised both Gillard and Abbott, saying he held nothing against the leader of the opposition whom he described as "a fine character."

Of Gillard he said: "I think it is a singular privilege to have a lady of the amazing stamina that we have as prime minister."

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