PRESSURE is mounting among angry Labor backbenchers for the government to ensure Peter Slipper stays out of the Speaker's chair while sexual harassment allegations against him are unresolved.
The government faces the risk the opposition might get the numbers in the House to stop Mr Slipper taking up his position, and there is deep concern in Labor ranks about the damage the publicity is doing to the embattled government.
But Leader of the House Anthony Albanese last night stuck to the line that Mr Slipper, who has stood aside while separate criminal allegations are examined, could properly get back to his job if cleared. Otherwise people would be encouraged to launch civil actions against MPs to force them to stand aside.
Mr Slipper last night hit out at the opposition via Twitter: ''I have been a good friend of Tony Abbott even when he didn't have many. I even delivered him the key vote he needed to become leader!'' He also tweeted that the media had trespassed at his house, entering the garage and rubbing their hands over his wife's car.
The anger about Mr Slipper is strong among critics of Julia Gillard. One backbencher, advocating the government cut Mr Slipper loose, said: ''If we dump him now we won't wear too much of the odium. If we cling to him in a desperate way, we do wear the odium.'' Another said if the government had any sense it would dump him, ''but they don't so they won't''.
A third predicted that the Prime Minister would not want him back in the chair and ''I think she'll be putting pressure on him to stay away''.
But opinion is divided. Another source said ''we have to do all we can to keep Peter Slipper in the chair'' to bolster the government's numbers, adding the backbench was ''in despair'' over Labor's general position.
Independent Andrew Wilkie said he was ''of the strong view'' Mr Slipper should not resume the chair until all allegations against him were dealt with.
Assuming it had the support of crossbenchers Bob Katter and Tony Crook, the opposition could stop Mr Slipper returning to the chair if it got the backing of Mr Wilkie and independent Rob Oakeshott, who said his attitude would depend on a judgment about whether the claims were ''either vexatious and had negligible impact on the Speaker's office, or genuine and of concern to the Speaker's office.''
The government declined to categorically say taxpayers will not have to foot Mr Slipper's legal bills, although Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said on Monday it was ''very unlikely''. Shadow attorney-general George Brandis wrote to Ms Roxon yesterday, saying her Monday comment ''seemed equivocal'' and asking for specific undertakings.
Mr Slipper's staffer James Ashby has brought the civil harassment action against his boss.
The government sought to fan suspicions that the Liberals were involved in the allegations against Mr Slipper. Tony Abbott said ''no one that I am aware of had any specific knowledge of this prior to reading the newspapers'', but added there were about 100,000 members of the Liberal and National parties.