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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 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.

  11. bluepoppy

    There are different issues here:

    1st: Is Slipper guilty of any of the charges laid at his feet. Only a Court can decide.

    2nd: Was LNP guilty of conspiring against Slipper because a) Slipper was known to be dodgy anyway and thus an easy mark for revenge or b) Slipper is innocent of all charges but the LNP knowing the taint of suspicion is often enough for an outcome.

    3rd: Is Ashby guilty of concocting false charges against Slipper? Only a Court can decide.

    The rest is purely guesswork, but the LNP has done a good job of getting their hands dirty in this whole affair.

    The worst Opposition Australia has even seen for many reasons including the Slipper affair.

  12. geomac62

    You never get anything that shows the libnats in a poor light so whats new ? Brough has not been very bright and was caught out thats plain and simple . Pyne of the formerly sharp brain retention forgets like a Downer and then remembers when evidence crops up . If texts are to be telling in this case I would think that the texts Ashby sent Slipper show that crude language and expressions are the norm for the staffer . On standards alone if not deceit and working against his boss while claiming loyal allegiance he doesn,t deserve his job . The tone of those texts by Ashby refutes any fear about his boss as the reason not to go through proper channels . The media set up and bringing the case against Slipper while he is abroad are further evidence of a set up . You wont get it but the court will and I imagine a lot of voters as well .

  13. Paul

    The query in the article as to why Brough did what he did and said is actually explained later.
    He was trying to get 2 sleaze bags a job for shafting Slipper, what was in it for him takes little imagination.
    The government have been right onto this from the start and now they are questioning Abbott, they clearly know something. I hope he and Pyne have to go to court and answer questions under oath, we will see both have a total memory loss, on some matters, for a brief period.
    Of course they may tell the truth and if so I am really looking forward to seeing pigs fly.
    On another note I read a Gratton article that actually criticised Abbott, wow, next the ABC will become balanced.

  14. GeeWizz

    Geomac incorrect.

    I have actually stated here for a long time that the Slipper affair may well indeed be a Coalition setup to rope-a-dope.

    See the coalition know Slipper a lot better than you or me and there are rumours that he has a habit for this sort of behaviour…. so what do you do? Parachute in some good looking young man who is a member of the Liberal Party then sit back and let Peter Slipper do his “thing” and record all of it.

    The problem for the Labor Party is that EVEN IF they can prove what I am saying is true…. even if this was all just a massive setup by the Liberal Party… only Peter Slipper himself is responsible for actions he took. Sure he may well have been baited… but he took it hook, line and sinker when he needed have to.

    And thats why he will never be speaker again.

  15. Gavin Moodie

    I’m surprised that no one has commented on the involvement in this mess of the Australian’s journalist Steve Lewis. He seems to have been closely involved in trying to ‘get’ Slipper, not just report Ashby’s complaint.

  16. Lord Barry Bonkton

    Gavin , that’s why it was called ” UTEGATE 2 ” same reporter and same dodgy LNP party. The only reason MSM have woke up , because Slipper has put the texts in the court.

  17. klewso

    Does Lewis work from the office of the Coalition Leader – with all those “scoops” of his?

  18. eric

    Because a fair amount of voters dont like phoney Tony very much they will take this affair as another sign the he is not fit to be PM of the nation.
    It would be great to see one of the worst mudslingers of all times get hooked on this one.

    BTW wheres Suzie???

  19. Mack the Knife

    The head of the octopus is the H R Nicholls Society that Costello set up.

    On the face of it it appears that elements of Fair Work Australia connected to Kathy Jackson and a growing list of others will be found to be the tentacles that will lead to the head of the Octopus who are, anyway funding Ashby and Jackson for free.

    They seem to find out everything these days about secret links and hidden stuff.

    This may yet turnout larger than the Utegate affair, Bernard

  20. Michael de Angelos

    Aussies basically don’t care about a person’s sexuality and despite Mr Slipper’s Wildean approaches to said staffer, they abhor a honey trapper and sympathy will be falling Slipper’s way.

    I can tell you know-Sydney eastern Suburb’s types, who naturally support Malcolm Turnbull cannot believe what a bungle this is and sheeting blame home to Abbott.

    We may well see in late 2013 Turnbull and Rudd go head to head in a GE.

    I’ve always said : it is not in Tony Abbott’s destiny to be PM and I’ve studied chook entrails on this and never been wrong yet,

  21. Liamj

    Curious in this is that the LNP can’t even get out a serious position statement (never mind a policy! on anything!) – yet they’re running an inside smear & destabilisation campaign against a v.high ranking elected official!?!

    Like the Grech fiasco, it looks to me like some v.well placed observers are leaking artful constructions to the any-smear-will-do luvvies in the LNP & NewsCorp.

  22. Geoff1

    Brough’s actions may have been unnecessary for his own political ambitions but something needed to be done in order to fulfill Abbott’s.
    Abbott is the one who needed an early election, Abbott is the one who needed a scandal to tip the balance of power. I suspect Brough was an agent for the upper echelons of the LNP and which is why Abbott, Pyne, and others have a lot of questions to answer.
    As it is, Brough may be just another casualty of a blown LNP Dirty Tricks Dept plot.

  23. Andybob

    Who knew what at The Australian ? One rogue reporter acting alone ? Where have we heard that before ?

  24. CML

    I agree with those who find it strange that Bernard did not mention Steve Lewis, the journalist from Ltd news who appears to be very involved in this whole affair. Why the reluctance, Bernard? Is he a mate of yours? That won’t help Lewis much, once the lawyers get stuck into him during the forthcoming court case.
    Ltd news in this country is as bad as its contemporaries in Britain. When are some of the scandal sheets they foist upon the public going to be shut down – can’t wait!

  25. Meguire Bob


    always finds a way to defend abbott

    when everyone wiht a brain knows abbott would have an idea what is going on within his part

    Abbott has even conceded he had talks with brough about running for slipper’s seat

    so no one can tell me Abbott is innocent

  26. billie

    As Chris Uhlmann is writing a book with Steve Lewis, what part did he play in his role as 7.30 anchor?

  27. whoknows

    Abbott does at least know how to duck and weave and Pyne is an ever eager noise maker prodded by Abbott in the thinking that it will advance his career.

    Meanwhile politics remains a public mis-service of not even slightly entertaining theatre, well paid by you and me and the rest of us. As a community we deserve better from all of these wankers.

  28. Glenn Brandham

    Once upon a time, I was harrassed at work by my employer. I took my complaint to the company, then went straight to Work Cover. I won it, then lost it on appeal. Nevertheless, not once did I consider going to the press or to our competion to end the harrassment. By the way, I lost on appeal, but the harrassment certainly stopped. What kind of RESULT was ashby trying to engineer? He certainly doesn’t belong to a union, as I do, if he did and listened to his union organiser, he could have had my experience, I continue to work with the same employer, so does the bloke whom I complained about, although without the harrassment. One can only guess at ashby’s intentions here…

  29. Jimmy

    I must say i agree with Michael De Angelos that the fall out will have some impact on Abbott.

    Even if he has kept his hands clean he is already very unpopular, the idea that members of his party have conspired to oust a speaker, something they themselves have touted as the most revered position in the parliament will have to impact a leader people already don’t trut (no matter how News Ltd try to spin it – did anyone see Joe Hildebrance on the Project last night).

    This issue combined with Abbott unwillingness to negotiate on refuge pol icy could see his popularity fall lower and the ALP 2pp vote creep up again to 47-53 or higher which would start to get abbott into dangerous territory, especially if the lack of economic damage from the carbon tax shrinks that 2pp lead further.

  30. klewso

    Abbott was “#1 Howard Head-kicker”, now he’s seated at the head of that same table and he employs others to do that dirty work – WOW?

  31. Steven Warren

    CML: One of the owners of Crikey is currently running for office in State Parliament and since he has announced this there has been a distinct lack of “risky” stories being told here and they have started posting editorials talking about how terrible the independent press is in Australia and talking up the MSM.

    You won’t find Crikey criticising any political reporters until after his election is what I’m thinking.

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