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Dec 17, 2012

Time discrepancies and the strange lack of interest in Ashby affair

A peculiar double standard seems to apply in coverage of the Ashby affair versus the AWU scandal, with a blogger the one unveiling possible issues for Tony Abbott.

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While many in the mainstream media seemingly preferred to skip the James Ashby story over the weekend, some bloggers were a little more interested.

In particular, there’s an issue of when, and what, Tony Abbott knew about the impending claims about Peter Slipper by James Ashby, before they were lodged in court. AAP’s Paul Osborne reported on Thursday about a discrepancy between the timing of the writing of Tony Abbott’s press release and the appearance of media reports about Ashby lodging his claims. Abbott’s office dismissed the discrepancy by saying there was a system flaw that meant document timestamps were out by ten hours during that period.

This, inevitably, drew the attention of IT professionals.

IT industry veteran Sortius proceeded to investigate the claim from Abbott’s office at his blog and found some fairly substantial flaws with it. The claim that the entire APH IT system was out by ten hours appears impossible — the system wouldn’t be able to operate if that was the case — but that more likely reflects a lay person’s understanding and phrasing on the part of Abbott’s spokesperson. More significantly, Sortius explains why the originating documents for Abbott’s Saturday morning Slipper press release couldn’t have been created at the time they were supposed to have been created.

Where I disagree with Sortius is on his interpretation of this: I don’t think it’s a particularly major gotcha, and it’s still possible that the media release could have been created on a machine with a clock out by ten hours and then emailed to a machine on the APH system. Nor does the fact that Abbott’s office might have known of major revelations about Slipper the following day (after all, it seems quite a few LNP MPs or prospective MPs did) amount to evidence Abbott himself was involved in any way in what became an abuse of court processes and an attempt to politically damage Slipper via legal means.

It does, however, raise questions that don’t fit the explanation from Abbott’s office, and on the Ashby affair there has been a persistent pattern of Coalition figures — particularly but not only Mal Brough and Christopher Pyne — being less than forthcoming about their role in events leading up to the lodgement of Ashby’s claim. As Lenore Taylor noted on Saturday, there are some serious questions to be answered, particularly by Brough.

On that basis, one would assume the mainstream media would have been anxious to clear up the issue of the timing discrepancy. After all, for months we’ve been treated to the minutiae of Julia Gillard’s legal work 20 years ago, with ancient documents pored over, memories dredged and wild claims made. This relates to an issue not 20-years-old, but nine-months-old.

But, strangely, there’s been nothing. No acres of newsprint from that fine forensic mind of Hedley Thomas. No editorial from The Australian demanding Abbott and Brough allow themselves to be grilled at length. No columns in The Age from Mark Baker. No complaints from Jonathan Holmes about the ABC not following the story up. No interviews on 7.30 with discredited figures making wild allegations against Abbott and then refusing to detail them, let alone back them up.

Perhaps it’s the time of year and everyone’s in holiday mode.

But it’s curious that, after so many resources were devoted this year by The Australian and The Age to unsuccessfully finding a single substantial question to raise about the Prime Minister on the AWU matter, it’s a blogger that has done exactly that about Abbott on the Slipper case.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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71 thoughts on “Time discrepancies and the strange lack of interest in Ashby affair

  1. tonyfunnywalker

    Thank you Douglas – I will follow that up.

    There is a good case study developing here of the mechanics of running a beat- up. The running sheet for the AWU beat-up was better.

    1. Explode the issue to current day relevance.
    2. Regurgitate the facts in voluminous format.
    3. Vilify and berate your competitors into the fray – if they are reluctant- then give them the crumbs – for example the leaked email to the 7.30 Report and this was followed up by the 7.30 Wilson interview.

    ABC were given some meaningless scoops but at least they are now on board – did they pay for these?

    (Holmes’ Media Watch- haven’t got to the bottom of that one yet)?
    5. Ask questions and always have more questions irrespective of relevance.
    6. Keep patting yourselves on the back with Voluminous and repetitive Exclusives and Editorial coverage to reinforce relevance.
    7. Feed the Opposition with issues to keep them involved and where they think they can benefit. (Gillard loses confidence of back bench, Rudd challenges again, ) but most of all muddy the waters of Government success – don’t give then any clear air.

    Amateurish, unprofessional, obvious — but that’s modern journalism is – if there isn’t an issue create one, or get an ambulance chasing lawyer on board and a PR agency to devise strategy, or just evade privacy and retaliate with vilification and threat when challenged.
    We saw it all in 2012 – but the electorate was not sucked in neither was The Federal Court.
    The judgement will be on every curriculum for some time as it will become a precedent for lawyers and Journalists who seek to tamper with the democratic system by instigating or trying to instigate regime change.
    Watergate was a burglary, the Whitlam’s dismissal was the whim of a GG who had lost the plot, but the AWU and Slipper affairs were contrived bastardry of the first order. It is unravelling at the seams as as Geomac62 suggests there is lot more to unravel. And that is what the Opposition and the press are afraid of and that’s why the ” conspiracy of silence “.

  2. Douglas Evan

    “I don’t think it’s a particularly major gotcha, and it’s still possible that the media release could have been created on a machine with a clock out by ten hours and then emailed to a machine on the APH system.”

    Bernard, given that you have apparently been following the blogs on this it is surprising that you have either overlooked or ignored the piece by Kieren Cummings for IA. Cummings an IT expert with 20 years experience analyzes the issues and concludes:

    “According to separate reports, the time the documents could be created are 11:08 pm or 11:32 pm. Considering the document was sent at 9:17 am the next day, if the clocks were ten hours out, that would mean the document was created, typed up, and converted to PDF, nine minutes before being sent out — or it was created AFTER being sent.”
    Given that the document is over 400 words in length it is unlikely to have been created in 9 minutes.

    Also, and this is the clincher, Tony Eastleigh explicitly quoted from Abbott’s document on Radio National’s Morning AM at 8.07 that morning, April 21. Abbott is clearly lying. The question in my mind is what that means and why isn’t an investigative journalist with your reputation all over this like a rash?.

    Warren Entsch has owned up to contacting Abbott’s office in advance, the evening previously, to warn him of what was coming up. According to Entsch he was unable to get any information from Steve Lewis the ‘Australian’ journalist who broke the story, beyond that something would be in the paper next morning.

    If that was true why was Entsch determined to communicate this piece of non information to Abbott? For that matter wouldn’t Brough (who is in this up to his neck) wish to keep Abbott, a strong and continuing supporter of Brough’s return to Federal Parliament, in the loop.

    IA says: “And how did Entsch know Ashby’s case was about to break in the press? Well Entsch and Mal Brough are very old friends — much like Slipper and Abbott. But, more specifically, Entsch’s staffer Suzanne Newbury’s husband, James Newbury, is none other than Christopher Pyne’s chief of staff.”

    Whether he got it from , Ashby, Entsch, Brough, Pyne, Bishop or Hockey (all of whom had contact with Ashby that they initially tried to deny)the fact that Eastleigh quoted from the document well before Abbott’s office claimed it was sent shows Abbott to be lying. What does it mean Bernard? Do some digging. Over to you there are a lot of people watching.

  3. tonyfunnywalker

    Thanks Bernard there is many thinking the same – perhaps the “Coalition of Silence” is evidence of involvement? What did Lewis know?

    This was orchestrated by a PR company and its time line was synchronised to gain maximum effect in the media 24 hr cycle. The perpetrators never thought that this would get far as it did and News Ltd said so. They expected the Government and Slipper would capitulate and Ashby would be awarded millions of dollars of settlement through mediation. Their Pro Bono would end with all taking their cut and their costs recovered.

    They expected the DAVID JONES effect – of a capitulation. When mediation was out of the question and the late release of emails/texts was designed to up the ante on the Government and Slipper.

    Gillard did not take the bait and the Misogyny Speech was the outcome.

    The standard strategy and tactics of any beat up and repeated by Michael Smith et al with the sudden appearance of the key players in the AWU affair was to put added pressure on Gillard.

    Again a misjudgement it would appear from today’s Nielsen poll.

    The judge was sound in his judgement and I believe that the Government is not walking away from this is bigger than Watergate. – ( that was to ensure a new government wasn’t elected — the Slipper affair was designed to bring down a legally elected Government– a Regime Change ) — it is even more serious than the Dismissal of 1975.

    The demand for Brough’s head is only the beginning and things will ramp up prior to the new session of Parliament in February.

    The electorate is fed up with all this, but the air needs to be cleared as to who knew what and when.

    This has happened on Abbott’s watch and not 20 years ago, so memory lapses are not an excuse.

    In the meantime I assume the Select All – Delete buttons on a few email accounts will be working overtime as I can assure you nothing has been documented.

    The ball is back in Slipper’s court and if his attack on Bishop has anything to go by (the press missed this one too as did the Coalition front bench); he will be primed for settling some old and new scores with the Coalition. He has nothing to lose – they have already taken it all, except for his personal pride and dignity and they even tried to demonise that.

    Have a good Christmas Peter.

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