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Australia Parliament Speaker Peter Slipper steps down over sex harassment charges

Australian House or Representatives Speaker Peter Slipper
Australian House or Representatives Speaker Peter SlipperAustralia Parliament

Australian Parliament Speaker Peter Slipper stepped down temporarily Sunday amid charges of fraud and claims he sexually harassed a male staffer, national media reported.

Slipper, 62, in a prepared statement upon his return to the country from Los Angeles, said he “emphatically” denied the charges, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

“The allegations include both a claim of criminal behavior and claim under civil law,” Slipper said.

To keep the integrity of Australia’s democratic institutions, he said, “I believe it is appropriate for me to stand aside as speaker while this criminal allegation is resolved."

Allegations of criminally misusing taxi payment vouchers were brought by openly gay adviser James Ashby, 33, who is suing the government and Slipper in a civil case over claims Slipper made unwanted sexual advances toward Ashby and had sent him sexually explicit text messages.

Slipper is married and has two adult children from a previous marriage.

Deputy Speaker and Labor Parliament Member Anna Burke will take Slipper’s role, the Herald reported.

Slipper’s move threatens Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s hold on power, as her government will lose its single-seat majority in Parliament's 150-member House of Representatives.

Slipper resigned from the Liberal Party to become speaker in a November 2011 move engineered by Gillard.

The prime minister was under pressure to force Slipper out before parliament returns May 8 if he wouldn’t leave on his own, the Australian Associated Press reported.

"It is appropriate that Mr. Slipper has stood aside as Speaker whilst alleged criminal conduct is investigated," Gillard said in a statement.

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