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Dec 12, 2012

Ashby v Slipper: court dismissal and no winners -- least of all taxpayers

There have been no winners from the James Ashby v Peter Slipper sexual harassment case, which was thrown out of the Federal Court this morning. Crikey was in court for the verdict.

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Finally, what many suspected has been confirmed: the court action brought against former speaker Peter Slipper was a political conspiracy to destroy him by the Queensland Liberal-National Party, and that James Ashby was a small but perfectly formed Trojan Horse who was wheeled into Slipper’s office to blow it up.

The Federal Court’s Justice Steven Rares this morning found that the s-xual harassment proceedings brought by Ashby earlier this year were an “abuse of the process of the court” and that the original application was used by Ashby “for the predominant purpose of causing significant public, reputational and political damage to Mr Slipper”.

“To allow these proceedings to remain in the Court would bring the administration of justice into disrepute among right-thinking people and would be manifestly unfair to Mr Slipper,” Rares found.

He found “a party cannot be allowed to misuse the Court’s process by including scandalous and damaging allegations, knowing that they would receive very significant media coverage, and then seek to regularise his, her or its pleading by subsequently abandoning those claims”.

Justice Rares goes on to say that the court must always be available to hear bona fide claims of s-xual harassment. But Ashby’s “pre-dominant purpose in bringing the proceedings was not a proper one”. He also ordered Ashby to pay all of the costs of the proceeding, which will be substantial.

Ashby, who sat impassively during the reading of the judgment in the Sydney court, said afterwards he would appeal: “With my lawyers we will study the judgment in detail, but at this stage we intend to appeal this regrettable decision.”

There can be no winners out this situation, including the taxpayers of Australia, who paid out $50,000 to Ashby for his s-xual harassment claims only recently. The roots of the issue go back to the Queensland Liberal and National parties, whose political disunity now resemble a rather uninteresting, tropical version of The Leopard.

No one comes out of this action looking good. Slipper, otherwise known as “Slippery Pete”, is a political turncoat who has sent a series of text messages which slandered every member of the female gender and some bivalves. Ashby, whose qualifications for employment stemmed from his experience at a Queensland strawberry farm, appears to be a patsy who was manipulated.

And Mal Brough, a former minister in the Howard government, seems to have adopted Graham Richardson’s “whatever it takes” mantra to getting back into politics. The fact that this has now all become public is testament to the political ineptitude of the Queensland LNP; if the NSW ALP does you over, it rarely sees the light of day. It appears that everyone had a secret agenda, or what my mother would call “lacking a strong moral compass.”

According to the judgment, once Slipper accepted the role as speaker of the House of Representatives in late 2011 he became a marked man. The hung Parliament has led to some strange alliances, and once the ALP realised that it could no longer accede to Andrew Wilkie’s demands on poker machines, it started hunting for an alternative.

Enter Slipper, who represented the Queensland seat of Fisher as a Liberal and a National from 1993, and whose idiosyncratic personal issues were well-known in Canberra. When the PM recruited Slipper in 2011, she bought herself some breathing space by eliminating his Coalition vote.

At the time Slipper took the speaker’s chair, mace and substantial allowance, he was facing a possible challenge for his seat from Brough, who was desperate to get back into Parliament after being turfed out in the 2007 Ruddslide.

In the action, Ashby alleged Slipper had s-xually harassed him verbally, in text messages (aka “s-xting”) and by stroking his arm. He also alleged Slipper had had a consensual s-xual relationship with a young male staff member in 2003 and recorded an encounter with him on video. The final allegation was Ashby had been forced to watch Slipper sign multiple Cabcharge vouchers and hand them to the Comcar driver, and that Ashby intended to report this to the AFP.

Slipper alleged that Ashby had brought the proceedings in combination with one or more of Karen Doane (a co-worker on Slipper’s staff), Brough, News Limited journalist Steve Lewis, media consultant Anthony McClennan and Harmers Workplace Lawyers, for an improper purpose. That purpose was to form part of a political attack on Slipper to aid the LNP and/or Brough so that Ashby and Doane could get new jobs in the LNP.

About 270 pages of Ashby’s text messages were submitted, some of which included the implication that Slipper wanted to have a closer relationship. Ashby appears to have rebuffed this suggestion, but the next day has gone to see Mark McArdle, a senior frontbencher in the then Queensland state LNP opposition.

“There was no hint … of Mr Ashby feeling upset as a result of s-xual harassment. Rather those texts suggested that he was planning to use the record of his texts with Mr Slipper to empower others in a way that would affect the balance of power in the House of Representatives. Mr Ashby asked one friend whether his contemplated action would result in his being ‘rewarded or condemned’,” the judge said.

The judgment says that straight after the March 24 Queensland state election, which was won by the LNP, Ashby told McArdle he had decided to press ahead with what they had talked about. Ashby and Doane made contact with Lewis. “Previously, Mr Ashby and Mr Slipper had expressed very hostile feelings to one another about both Mr Brough and Mr Lewis,” it states.

Ashby and Doane got down to work. By March 29 they were supplying Brough and Lewis with copies of Slipper’s diary entries, and Brough was helping them with job opportunities within the LNP. Lewis got his front-page stories and Brough discussed with Ashby the hiring of s-xual harassment experts Harmers as his lawyers. Justice Rares said:

“Mr Lewis appears to have pursued, enthusiastically, the stories potentially available to him based on Mr Ashby’s and Ms Doane’s information. However, I am not satisfied that Mr Lewis shared with them the purpose of advancing the political interests of Mr Brough or the LNP or of aiding Mr Ashby or Ms Doane in their future prospects of advancement or preferment. It is more likely that Mr Lewis was focused on obtaining good copy for stories to sell newspapers.”

However, Rares dismissed News Ltd’s argument that Lewis’ famous “We will get him” text did not refer to Slipper. News had argued the text referred to a Commonwealth car driver.

The judge concluded that “the evidence established that Mr Ashby acted in combination with Ms Doane and Mr Brough when commencing the proceedings in order to advance the interests of the LNP and Mr Brough … Mr Ashby and Ms Doane set out to use the proceedings as part of their means to enhance or promote their prospects of advancement or preferment by the LNP, including using Mr Brough to assist them in doing so.”

Slipper did not appear in court this morning but was represented by Simon Berry, a Sydney partner at Berrry Buddle Wilkins solicitors. Berry said outside the hearing room that was acting as “amicus curiae” or a friend of the court, because he had not yet been formally engaged. He said he would speak to Slipper to see if he would make a statement but, as Crikey went to deadline, no statement had been made.

Margot Saville —

Margot Saville

Crikey Sydney reporter

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83 thoughts on “Ashby v Slipper: court dismissal and no winners — least of all taxpayers

  1. The Pav


    Your attempts to exonerate your odious part are as dishonest as the party and its leader

    Jenkins wanted to step down. Slipper didn’t knife him. Simple common sense would tell you that but apparently you can only handle simple

    Next some crude texts do not make anybody a pervert and many women have sad they were not offended

    Then you rabbit on about the AWU. and after 20 years still nothing more than ” there are questions to answer” you you and your dishonest leader can’t even enunciate them and when questions have been put by the whole press gallery ( hardley Gillard supporters on two separate occaisions ) they were answered.

    Unlike Abbott who promptly ran and hid when the press wanted to ask him about the Slipper judgement. Shouldn’t surprised as cowardice & dishonesty run together which is why you are such a lover of Abbott

    Then there’s Thompson wow. He says he’s innocent ( just like Slipper ) did and te smart thing would be to allow due process to take its course but no doing the smart thing is not for the likes of you.

    You and Abbott ( I am assuming you are separate people) are more than happy to make any recless accusation for political gain without regard to the consequences. That’s the attack on democracy. It works best when people act in good faith.not something Abbott does.

    I would point out that there has been a myraid of investigations into Thompson over years and whenever the eviudence is challenged it is shown to be false. Remember the Prostitute who said she was with him but then was actually overseas!!

    I see your adored leader is overseas to “raise the morale” of our troops.

    I hope our service people are happy with the concept that if they die in the service of our country ( even you Geewhizz) it’s OK I mean as Abbott says “SH*t Happens”

  2. Lyn Gain

    Malcolm, The reason everybody is in a tizz about them is that everybody has dirty minds (an automatic ashamed snigger when female genitalia are mentioned) and can’t separate fact and insult. If you really want to read what was actually said, try this link, but believe me it is very tedious

    For the short version, I include below a comment I posted on Crikey in early October (for some reason the SMH didn’t use it when I sent it first to the letters editor).

    “Titillated by what dreadful things Peter Slipper must have said to bring about such indignant revulsion by the Leader of the Opposition, and such coyness by the SMH, other media and parliament in refusing to reveal Slipper’s words to the tender public, I looked up the Book of Evidence Annexure published on the internet by the Federal Court to read Slipper’s own words. What an anticlimax. Far from reviling women, Slipper said two things on which the accusations of ‘vile’ and ‘misogynist’ are presumably based. Firstly he said that Mal Brough was a c***. I bet he’s not the first or last to say that. In that context he then mused philosophically about why people used the c word pejoratively when many men were in fact fond of the phenomena – quite an enlightened view there I thought. The second set of comments was when he said that female genitalia looked like ‘shell less mussels’ which he also described as tasting ‘salty’ and ‘briny’ – a factual description. He didn’t say he didn’t like mussels, and even suggested that Ashby might take in interest in them to divert him from his ‘wayward’ ways. Where’s the misogyny and what’s so vile?”

  3. Hunt Ian

    Everyone seems to have a handle on this except Bluepoppy. Bluepoppy, the government did not make inappropriate remarks and paid of Mr Ashby because they figured that their case added nothing except great expense to the taxpayer to a case that would basically rest on Mr Slipper’s application to have the case thrown out of court. Nor does the rest of your long winded suggestion that Ashby did no wrong and the LNP did no wrong strengthen any hope that Ashby will be successful on appeal or in any was support your claim that “there are no winners” on either side of politics, when you clearly think that the LNP ought to have won.

    I read the first reports on Ashby and I scratched my head. From what was quoted (the crucial bits might have been left out) there was no repeated or threatening moves by Slipper against Ashby. Slipper said a few things that I think were excessively familiar and because of that could perhaps be construed as a sexual pass. But there is no suggestion in the published evidence of persistent or threatening pressure to have a sexual relationship. So what was Ashby making a fuss about? Knocking off Slipper as speaker seemed a likely aim of all Ashby’s counsellors (who, of course, did no wrong, according to Bluepoppy)

    Just as with Julia Gillard, I thought here was the US Republican Party playbook at work again. Rupert Murdoch must be very disappointed that his propaganda outlets in the US did not get Mitt Romney, with his program to dismantle the welfare state, over the line in the recent US presidential election but Rupert can have better hopes in Australia where his media have a much bigger voice. He might win here and put Abbott in as Prime minister to do whatever he can without control of the upper house to restore some of the worst aspects of work choices and dismantle welfare, which does not include, of course, responsible incentives to the wealthy to contribute to their health care and to their children’s privileged schooling. Abbott will try to introduce incentives, but of a more punitive kind, to force poorer people to contribute more to to their health care and to their children’s schooling. Watch this place.

  4. bluepoppy

    There are certainly no winners on both sides of politics in this saga. First the government’s dogged defense of Slipper and the hasty payout of $50K to make it all go away, coupled with inappropriate public remarks about the veracity of the case before it was heard in Court. It is not unreasonable to ask why Ashby, unlike many other complainants, was paid off so quickly if there was no case to answer and despite the government’s constant assertions the case was vexatious. Compare this to the experiences of other complainants who by contrast wait a long time for justice, if justice is served at all.

    It is probably too soon to state, without evidence, that Ashby was a ‘trojan horse’, probably more an opportunity that came the Coalition’s way and given Slipper’s past history one that probably had an air of legitimacy about it. Whether the case would have gone to Court without the shenanigans of minority government is anyone’s guess.

    Unless of course Ashby is telling the truth. There is nothing inherently wrong with a victim of harrassment going to others for counsel and advice within their own party confines. This is not unusual. Why would Ashby necessarily approach Slipper or go to the SMOS? This may be the desired process but it is not one that always works for the bullied but often more in favour of the alleged perpetrator. Given the APS propensity to sweep bullying under the carpet or to target complainants who would seek redress from internal avenues.

    One thing is for sure the public and the taxpayer will probably be the last to know the real truth behind these events, maybe the best we can hope is truth via the next tell-all book to arise out of the gelatinous mass that is Aussie politics.

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