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.