RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Slipper

Turnbull invites the #Ashbygate zombie to haunt his new government.

Mal Brough

The Ashby Affair is like a zombie, one of the undead. You can’t kill it with an axe. It just keeps on walking, slowly and inexorably, towards those who were involved in this sorry saga.

While Mal Brough remains in Parliament the issue of his role in the tawdry affair will not go away.

Brough’s elevation to the Special Minister of State by new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, presumably for leadership spill services rendered, has reinstated the Ashby affair as an issue of concern, as it should. Not even Tony Abbott was prepared to appoint Mal Brough to any Cabinet position whilst question marks hung over the Ashby affair like the sword of Damocles.

It is ironic that among Brough’s new and probably most important duties, is the responsibility for those agencies which manage the integrity matters of a working Parliament; agencies such as, The Australian Electoral Office, the Ombudsman and the National Auditors, among others.

The key issue at the heart of the Rare’s decision in Ashby v Slipper is the abuse of the administration of justice. It was an application from Slipper’s lawyers that the case in which Ashby alleged sexual harassment by Slipper, be dismissed. By the time Rares’ brought down his decision to dismiss the case there was a mountain of evidence, raising serious doubts as to Ashby’s veracity and implicating others in the Ashby v Slipper saga.

One of those key others to benefit from Slipper’s political demise was Mal Brough, aka by his Ashby affair codename of Jacky. Many in the Opposition believed at the time that with a hung Parliament, getting rid of the then Speaker of the House, Slipper would bring down the Gillard Government, which was sufficient motivation for the apparent cloak and dagger operations as outlined in so many of the emails and text messages submitted in evidence. It did not bring down the Government as it happens, but Brough went on to win Slipper’s old seat in the 2013 Federal election, and Tony Abbott become PM.

The Rares’ decision was over-turned by a split decision of the Full Bench of the Federal Court essentially on a technical issue of uncontested evidence. All evidence given by Ashby and Harmer went unchallenged by an unrepresented Slipper and was therefore, in the view of two of the three judges, a failure by Rares J.

In the concluding paragraphs of their majority judgement Mansfield J. and Gilmour J. said as follows:

“We are satisfied that the evidence before the primary judge [Rares} did not warrant the adverse finding said to constitute an abuse of the Court’s process on the two bases found and did not warrant the rejection by His Honour of the sworn and unchallenged evidence of each of Ashby and Harmer.” Ashby Appeal decision Mansfield J and Gilmour J (par.225)

This was in response to those paragraphs in the Rares judgment, which included the following:

Having read all of the text messages…as well as the other evidence, I have reached the firm conclusion that Mr Ashby’s predominant purpose for bringing these proceedings was to pursue a political attack against Mr Slipper and not to vindicate any legal claim he may have for which the right to bring proceedings exist. …As Mr Ashby and Ms Doane agreed in their texts of 30 March 2012 what they were doing ‘will tip the govt to Mal’s [Brough] and the LNP’s advantage”: [66] Rares decision para.196

“…Mr Ashby acted in combination with Ms Doane and Mr Brough when commencing the proceedings in order to advance the interests of the LNP and Mr Brough. Mr Ashby and Ms Doane set out to use the proceedings as part of their means to enhance or promote their prospects of advancement or preferment by the LNP, including by using Mr Brough to assist them in doing so. And the evidence also established that the proceedings were an abuse of the process of the Court for the reasons I have given” Rares J [par. 199]

Siopis J, in his minority decision, did what judges are supposed to do, and weighed the abundant evidence before coming to a decision that the appeal be dismissed. He believed the evidence substantiated Rares’ J judgment that the process had been abused and therefore tainted.

There is an irony to this story. If Rares J had let the original case proper, Ashby v Slipper, continue until the very end, then the claims of not having ‘my day in court’ and uncontested evidence may have resulted in a totally different outcome.

Throughout the appeal the one dominate plea pushed by Ashby and his legal and PR representatives, was that he did not have his full ‘day in court’ on the sexual harassment matter. Of course, within a few months after the appeal decision dismissing the Rares’ judgment was published, Ashby withdrew the allegations of sexual harassment giving Slipper’s mental state as his primary reason. The Ashby v Slipper matter was no more. Ultimately there was no ‘day in court’. After all, the strategy had been successful. Slipper was a man broken beyond repair; Brough was to become the new MP, and the LNP the newly elected Government.

And what about the abuse of the justice system? It had taken yet another body blow.

Brough’s admission on 60 Minutes in an interview with Liz Hayes that he’d asked Ashby for Slipper’s diary entries was a matter that should’ve resulted in an immediate AFP inquiry. It was an extraordinary admission, which underscored concerns about the abuse of the administration of justice in this matter.

An abuse of the justice process sounds as boring as watching paint dry, and it is.

Is it so very important? Critically so.

The ‘administration of justice’ as a principle goes hand in hand with the principle of ‘open justice’, and they both form a key foundation stone on which any democratic society is built. Undermine it, and the fabric of your democracy starts to crumble. Extremist totalitarian and corrupt regimes, whether fascist or communist, flourish as a result.

Hence we get to the nub of the problem. The Opposition under Abbott and subsequently as Government, always seemed content to use the justice system as a political weapon in an endeavor to defeat or exact revenge from identified opponents. It has been their M.O. The pursuit of Slipper in which Brough was involved, as were others in the Government, is just one example. The Ashby affair has also raised the concern in its being just another step in the apparent politicization of the Australian Federal Police, and in on going attempts to politicize the courts.

In the last two years we have seen in operation three Royal Commissions. The Royal Commission into the sexual abuse of children by institutions has been a very fine example of how a Royal Commission should be structured and how it should behave. There was no political agenda, the terms of reference were broad and it appeared driven by a desire to get to the truth. It was implemented by the previous Government and continues despite budget cut-backs.

The Royal Commission into Pink Batts was designed to attack the Abbott Government’s political opponents, which it did although not very successfully, and has now faded into obscurity.

The Trade Union Royal Commission is similarly being used to achieve a political end. Its narrow terms of reference were designed to only identify corruption in certain unions and union officials. TURC certainly wasn’t supposed to find companies who may be complicit in the corruption, nor favoured whistle-blowers like Kathy Jackson. Turc’s performance, its treatment of company officials who’ve been called, Kathy Jackson and lack of real understanding of Industrial Relations law enshrined in High Court precedents has resulted in its abject failures so far to ‘get their man’ or ‘woman’. Its competence aside, it has now been tainted beyond repair. TURC, it seems, is proving to be ‘a bridge too far’.

These two Royal Commissions are part of this M.O.; one of using the justice system as a weapon to achieve an outcome as part of a political agenda. These are Abbott’s legacies, and therein lies the real problem for Malcolm Turnbull. He’s inherited them.

By appointing Mal Brough to the Cabinet, Turnbull runs the risk of being tainted by the odour that seems to follow the Ashby saga wherever it goes. One thing is certain. It is not going away.

If, as is being reported by the mainstream media, the AFP is continuing to investigate these allegations then questions arise as to the appropriateness of Brough to be given any Cabinet position, especially one involving probity and ethics.


This article was published on , 23rd September 2015.



The day was grey and drizzling. The courtroom was cavernous and empty.  The usual motley crew of lawyers, hangers-on and a few representatives from the media, old and new, were scattered throughout the room. On the bench, where their Honours sit, was one glass of water. There were no Slippers.

James Ashby visibly slumped, shed a tear and become overwhelmed with relief when Justice Mansfield, the presiding judge in this appeal, brought down the decision by the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia in his favour.

At the end of 2012 Justice Rares had thrown out Ashby’s sexual harassment case against Mr Slipper describing it ‘as an abuse of the judicial process’ with the main purpose to cause Mr Slipper ‘significant public, reputational and political damage’ with the aim of advancing ‘… the interests of the Liberal National Party.’

Ashby’s application for leave to appeal the Rares decision was granted, and his appeal was upheld by the Full Court. Costs were awarded in Ashby’s favour.

Harmer’s application for leave to appeal was not successful. He will have to pay the respondent, Peter Slipper, costs.

It was more than half-an-hour after Justice Mansfield pronouncement before Ashby fronted the media outside the Court. Harmer, McClellan and the rest of Ashby’s team were ensconced in one of the many interview rooms that are adjacent to the courts, celebrating their win as well as deciding the answer to the obvious question of ‘where to now’ 

Mr Ashby made it clear that today’s success enabled him to continue with his legal fight, his ‘chance to obtain justice for my original claim against Mr Slipper.’

His legal representatives contend that Ashby had ‘never had a proper hearing on the merits of his case’. This, so they say, is ‘what we’ve been after for a long time.’

There may be a few on the front bench of the LNP Government who hope that Mr Ashby doesn’t continue in his quest for justice and just vanishes into the political ether.  

Time will tell.

In the meantime Mr Slipper could well be fighting on two fronts as his former media advisor, Ms Karen Doane, has brought an action against him alleging discriminatory practices during her period of employment in Mr Slipper’s office. This matter is due to be heard on April 1.





ASHBY V SLIPPER APPEAL: the first round.

There were surprisingly few members of the general public present at today’s directions hearing before Emmett J in the matter of the Ashby v Slipper applications for leave to appeal to the Full Bench of the Federal Court. Is this issue dead in the water with the masses and is now only of interest to the mainstream media? I’ll let others decide.

The applications for leave to appeal were not heard today but will be heard before the Full Bench of the Federal Court during their May sittings. At the conclusion of the matter before Emmett J representatives of all parties toddled off to hammer out suitable dates in May.

It was made clear by Emmett J that if leave to appeal is granted by the Full Bench then they would likely go on to hear the appeal at that time during their May sittings.

One thing that did amuse me was the issue of the length of written submissions arguing a case for the leave to appeal to be either granted or rejected. Apparently written submissions are limited to 10 pages but parties for Harmer asked for them to be increased to 30 pages. Emmett J granted this request subject to the presiding judge of the Full Bench countering the request and enforcing the 10 page rule. (For some reason this tickled my fancy and I had a quiet snigger).

The other matter for business was the issue of costs being awarded to Slipper as a result of Rare’s decision now, of course, the subject of two applications for leave to appeal.

Emmett J slated the hearing on costs to 30th May. The logic seems to be if leave isn’t granted then the hearing on costs can go ahead, but it will be totally dependent on the outcome of the leave to appeal.

So bing bang wallah wallah bing bang – all over in a very short time.

The other highly amusing thing for me was my engagement with members of the mainstream media in the lift going down while they chatted between themselves trying to sort out what had just happened in court.

It was my “OH For Fuck’s Sake” moment as I then, without the benefit of any notes, gave them a six point summary as to what had happened – all done and dusted before we hit the ground floor. Once outside the court precincts I was asked to repeat what I had said in the lift, which I did while notes were taken, much to the amusement of the delightful Ross Jones, my comrade for the morning and occasional contributor to Independent Australia, the on-line magazine.

To my very best new friends in the MSM: Today wasn’t exactly rocket science, and it helps to prepare and listen to what is being said in court instead of chatting, even if it is about the case. I don’t even want to think about what is not being taught in journalism degrees.

The focus of the Ashby-Slipper story will change as this appeal proceeds. It isn’t about Ashby anymore or, for that matter, Slipper. Well, maybe a bit. But they are now playing second fiddle to Michael Harmer. Make no mistake Harmer is now driving this engine. That is the story in my view. Appeals will be lodged all the way if necessary because at stake is Harmer’s professional reputation and career. If I was occupying Harmer’s shoes I would be doing the same.

%d bloggers like this: