The judgment of Justice Rares in dismissing the s-xual harassment case of James Ashby against former speaker Peter Slipper is profoundly damaging for Mal Brough, former Howard government minister and preselected Liberal-National Party candidate for Slipper’s seat.
Brough, along with Ashby and Karen Doane, has been found to have been part of a “combination” to bring proceedings determined to have been “an abuse of the process of the Court”, one designed “for the predominant purpose of causing significant public, reputational and political damage to Mr Slipper”.
Another LNP member who does not emerge from this matter with his reputation particularly enhanced is shadow attorney-general George Brandis. It is Brandis who in October insulted government officials and claimed a Commonwealth attempt to have Ashby’s case struck out was motivated by politics and was “plainly preposterous”.
Justice Rares, clearly, disagrees.
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There’s been much discussion of accountability for politicians involved in legal matters of late. Brandis himself used the protection of parliamentary privilege to call Julia Gillard a “crook” — a claim he refused to repeat outside the Senate — and insist she had broken the law 20 years ago. The Opposition Leader has variously advanced and retracted similar claims. Christopher Pyne, a man with some involvement in the Ashby case, demanded the Prime Minister resign.
What if the standards invoked by the opposition in regards to Julia Gillard were applied to themselves? Even the most serious claims made against Gillard by the febrile minds at The Australian and within the opposition are trivial compared to what a judge has found to be the case about Brough: that he was a willing party to bringing litigation that was an abuse of process — not 20 years ago, but earlier this year.
And abuse of process in an area where not merely the legal system but Australian society still remains painfully ambivalent — the right of people to workplaces free of harassment, s-xual or otherwise.
By even a pale shadow of the accountability demanded by the opposition in recent weeks, Brough cannot continue as its preselected candidate for Fisher.
As for George Brandis, his habit of declaiming, he appears to think ex cathedra, on any legal issue it is in the Coalition’s interests to pursue, raises real doubts about his suitability to be attorney-general in a Coalition government.