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Jun 27, 2012

Ashby is no Grech moment…unless you’re Mal Brough

The Ashby saga is unlikely to do much damage to the opposition but it will do plenty to Mal Brough, once touted as a future leader.

In the wilder fantasies of some government members at the moment, the James Ashby story will eventually explode and inflict massive damage on the Coalition and Tony Abbott, as if, having failed to land a blow on Tony Abbott for two-and-a-half years, Labor can relax and watch him be destroyed by his own handiwork. Comparisons to Godwin Grech and, with a considerable stretch from Anthony Albanese, Watergate, have been invoked.

Albanese continued to try to draw Abbott into the saga this morning, calling a media conference at Parliament House to demand the opposition leader reveal every last detail of the Coalition’s contact with Ashby.

The clumsy handling of the matter by a number of senior Coalition figures over how many had met with Ashby — particularly Christopher Pyne, whose normally sharp memory seems to have started playing tricks on him in relation to his dealings with Ashby — gives a patina of credibility to Albanese’s “who knew what and when” demands.

But alas for Labor, the Ashby saga has little in common with Godwin Grech. Abbott has been quick to accuse the government of sleaze over Craig Thomson and Slipper, but he hasn’t made dramatic claims of prime ministerial corruption based on the word of one mentally fragile individual, like his predecessor did. Indeed, Abbott has preferred to let others, like Pyne, carry much of the attack on the government, a lesson he presumably acquired from watching Malcolm Turnbull lead with his chin on “Utegate”.

While it won’t have much impact on Abbott’s political future, it’s already done a pretty fair job of wrecking Mal Brough’s return to politics.

Twice now Brough has been revealed as having misled the public over his role in the affair. The first time was in early May when, in the aftermath of Fairfax’s Jessica Wright outing him as having met with Ashby, he arranged a tell-all explanation to The Australian, complete with photo shoot with his wife, to explain he’d met with Ashby three times and had only spoken to a small number of trusted legal advisers about the matter, and not anyone else in the Coalition or LNP.

That marked a change from his position of just a few days earlier, that claims he was aware of the legal action beforehand were “nonsense”.

We now know, courtesy of yesterday’s document release by the Federal Court, that he was misleading the public again with his claims to The Oz, and was a key player in the co-ordination of what appears to have been a campaign to damage Slipper, trying to arrange a job within the LNP for another disaffected Slipper staffer, Karen Doane. Ashby is also alleged to have emailed Brough with confidential material from Slipper’s diary.

What’s bizarre about Brough’s involvement is that it was wholly unnecessary. Brough has — or had — a lock on preselection for Fisher. He was guaranteed to re-enter federal politics at the next election. But the route of a man once touted as leadership material since he lost Longman in 2007 has been a circuitous one. He led Liberal moderate resistance to the establishment of the LNP by the Queensland Nationals (who were aided by Queensland Liberal conservatives led by Santo Santoro, who ironically now finds himself a target of the man who bankrolled the merger, Clive Palmer). He thus became the highest profile casualty of the merger — Lawrence Springborg mockingly demanded to know “where’s Mal” when the merger was approved.

Brough moved to Melbourne to lick his wounds but managed to overcome his anger and join the party he swore he’d never go near in 2010, targeting Slipper’s seat (perhaps to the point of obsession) and rebuilding relations with at least some of the LNP hierarchy.

Now he’s put all of that in danger with a remarkable display of poor judgment in not merely becoming involved in a campaign to damage Slipper — who could always be relied upon to damage himself, regardless of who else was trying — but then lying about it publicly. Even if he returns to politics, he’s damaged goods, and the former minister may find his stint on the backbench an extended one under a Coalition government.

The Liberals have had a fair infusion of talent since Brough was last in Parliament, and most of the people in the queue ahead of him have been smart enough to keep away from the sort of thing Brough now finds himself embroiled in.

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32 comments

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32 thoughts on “Ashby is no Grech moment…unless you’re Mal Brough

  1. Holden Back

    Where is this teabag of talent which has infused the Liberal Party?
    It’s a small bag in abig urn, as far as I can see.

    White, with two?

  2. Chris Graham

    Bang on as usual, Bernard. What has amazed me about Brough is that he’s got away with his cowboy brand of politics for so long. His reign as Minister for Indigenous Affairs was stunning for it’s spectacular lack of direction and ethics. That was in no small part helped by The Australian and its wilful ignorance. But of course if The Oz smells blood in the water, it would eat its own mother… Mal Brough is on the menu.

  3. FunkyJ

    You get what you’re forced to vote for…

  4. geomac62

    While there has been no fake email it would appear the Slipper matter is still a stitch up . Pyne and Brough have had to go from know nothing to admit contact on numerous occasions . Looking at the texts sent to Slipper by Ashby it could just as easily be Slipper dismissing Ashby for harassment . This case will be lost and was never anything but a ploy to damage the government with Slipper as collateral damage . If Abetz can come out of the Greche affair still sitting on senate inquiries then Ashby will get a gig in the libnats somewhere and Brough might end up a backbencher .

  5. warwick

    Great work by Newscopout with the Herald Sun article behind a paywall, and the Australian article not.

    Not a single whisper on The Punch either.

  6. Michael de Angelos

    Keane comes to a strange conclusion that the alleged Slipper conspiracy will not damage Abbott because of his hand’s off approach.

    This assumes that Aussies are completely blind to the fact that a major Abbott ally and opposition ministerial spokesman who does so much yakking in Parliament, Christopher Pyne is Abbott’s right hand man.

    If say, they ha left all the running to a seemingly outsider like Sen Heffernan this may be true, but I am afraid Australian voters are a bit more clued into how plots unfold.

    Indeed- the Grech / Turnbull fiasco is no-where near the same or as evil as what seems to be unfolding.

    Malcolm Turnbull can say in all honesty that he was mis-led by a fraudulent email and sought political advantage as expected and when it went belly-up, paid a price. What we are witnessing unfold looks like a bizarre and more sinister plan to unseat a government by unlawful means.

    If Bernard thinks there is a comparison to Utegate, and this matter won’t slow burn over the next 12 months he is spending too much time closeted in the round table thinking of the press gallery.

  7. Mobius Ecko

    I wouldn’t be so sure Abbott has got off Scott free on this. He was very precious and defensive (in an angry way) today when it was pointed out by Albanese that Abbott a short time ago had stated that all the correspondence between the staffers and Liberals in the Slipper matter had been made public, and it turns out there’s a whole slew that wasn’t.

    Abbott had no answer but to say this is a dud government muck raking to save its own skin, along with a lot of his usual hypocritical projectionist nonsense.

  8. notagin112

    Its still early days Keane, and this thing hasn’t run its course yet. When it first blew up this was apparently terrible for the government and now a month and half later its turning sour for the opposition. The government seems to be incredibly confident with the tenor of their accusations, and when’s the last time you saw them this confident?

  9. shepherdmarilyn

    It was a lie in the beginning and a lie now.

  10. GeeWizz

    I don’t get this media/Labor line that Brough was involved because he “wants Slippers seat”

    Uhhh… don’t know if you have been attention folks but Slipper was kicked out of the Liberal Party, so he’s not going to get pre-selected.

    And the chance of Slipper winning back his seat as an Independent here in Queensland is pretty much nill to nothing.

    But lets say Brough got involved to cause Slipper pain for his betrayal… it doesn’t change the text messages sent from Slippers phone. Even if he was “setup” Slipper has been involved in actions unbecoming of a Speaker of the House and will never sit in that position ever again. No one forced him to send those text messages.

    The other point I would make is that sexual harrassment can not be dismissed away simply because others told you to report them. It either happened or didn’t.

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