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Australia's Speaker Quits Over Sexual Harassment Charges

4/22/2012 8:48 AM ET

Peter Slipper on Sunday resigned as Australia's Parliament Speaker in the wake of sexual harassment and fraud charges leveled against him.

Slipper is being sued by a former male colleague who alleged that he had received explicit text messages and faced unwanted sexual advances from him. He is also being investigated by police over claims that he misused public-funded taxi services.

Former parliamentary staff member James Ashby has initiated legal action against Slipper over alleged sexual harassment. In a statement, he categorically denied the allegations that he harassed Ashby, and that he misused cab charges.

His decision to quit as Speaker of the House of Representatives comes ahead of the expected release of court documents on Monday that will outline the civil complaint by Ashby against his former boss, including improper text messages.

"The allegations include both a claim of criminal behavior and a claim under civil law," Slipper said in a statement, referring to the allegations of fraud and harassment. "As such, I believe it is appropriate for me to stand aside as Speaker while this criminal allegation is resolved." Deputy Speaker Anna Burke, a Victorian Labor MP, is to succeed Slipper, Australian media reports said.

Welcoming Slipper's resignation, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in a statement that it was "appropriate that Mr. Slipper has stood aside as Speaker whilst alleged criminal conduct is investigated. It is also appropriate for all parties to note the processes under way and treat them with respect," she added.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott welcomed Slipper's decision but criticized the government's handling of the issue. "As this day ends, we are left with huge question marks over the judgment and the integrity of the Prime Minister," Abbott told reporters in Sydney.

by RTT Staff Writer

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