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Gillard fears for Slipper

Date

Jessica Wright, Cosima Marriner

IN A WARNING aimed at negative political campaigns, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has aired her concern at the emotional toll faced by Peter Slipper in the fallout from the sexual harassment charges that had been brought against him.

After what she admitted had been a brutal year in politics, Ms Gillard said she was ''concerned about Peter Slipper as a human being'' caught ''in the eye of a media storm''.

Mr Slipper made some ''grievous errors, including his offensive texts [but] he has a family, he is human, and he has been under stress and strain'', Ms Gillard said in an exclusive interview with Fairfax Media.

Ms Gillard had no doubts about who was to blame for the brutal year in politics, which included the Craig Thomson affair, the asylum-seeker issue, the Peter Slipper-James Ashby case and the AWU slush fund.

''All of it was the decision and style of the opposition under Tony Abbott,'' she said. ''They will always go for the negative and go in hard against the individual.''

She took particular aim at the Coalition over the unsuccessful sexual harassment case launched against Mr Slipper by his former staffer, Mr Ashby.

''It is transparent from what the judge said that this was always a conspiracy about the politics, and consequently aimed at the government,'' she said.

Queensland LNP insiders admitted Mal Brough ''overreached'' with his role in the case, but the party was confident the former Howard government minister would unseat the former speaker at the next election. Senior party sources told Fairfax Media there had been no need for Mr Brough to get embroiled in a high-stakes game to damage Mr Slipper.

Mr Brough met Mr Ashby three times to discuss the political staffer's allegations of sexual harassment, bringing along a prominent Brisbane QC to one meeting.

''He should have just kept his head down,'' a party figure said. ''He knew Ashby had been working against him; commonsense would have said he would have been much better off not getting involved … he did overreach.''

On Wednesday, Federal Court judge Steven Rares threw out Mr Ashby's case against his former employer as ''an abuse of the court'', and pointedly criticised Mr Brough for working with Mr Ashby to ''advance the interests of the LNP and Mr Brough''.

One local party official said Mr Brough was ''bleak'' when he learnt of the judge's criticism.

In her final interview for the year, Ms Gillard she had ''a lot of governing to do'' before calling an election.

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