Government ready to attack over Slipper
Gillard government expected to target Tony Abbott over his involvement in the Peter Slipper affair, national affairs correspondent Lenore Taylor reports.PT3M27S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2b8v0 620 349 December 12, 2012
The Federal Court has thrown out the sexual harassment case brought against former parliamentary speaker Peter Slipper by his ex-staffer James Ashby.
With my lawyers, we will study the judgment in detail, but at this stage we intend to appeal this regrettable decision
In a scathing judgment handed down on Wednesday, Justice Steve Rares found that the case was an "abuse of process" which had been carried out for the "purpose of causing significant public, reputational and political damage to Mr Slipper". He dismissed the claim and ordered Mr Ashby to pay his former boss's legal costs.
Peter Slipper ... the case against him has been thrown out. Photo: Gary Ramage
Mr Ashby, wearing a grey suit with a purple checked shirt and dark purple tie, was red faced and looked down at his lap as the judgment was read out.
Soon after Justice Rares finished reading his judgment, Mr Ashby dashed out of court and into a meeting room with his legal team.
Outside court, Mr Ashby said: "Obviously I'm extremely disappointed with the court's decision today. This has been a very harrowing time for me and my family, my friends and supporters.
"Extremely disappointed" ... James Ashby leaves court. Photo: Wolter Peeters
"I first filed my sexual harassment complaint against Mr Slipper back on April 20. That's almost eight months ago - eight months. And since that date no evidence at all has been heard of my substantive complaint against the former speaker that he sexually harassed me.
"There has been a determined campaign to try to prevent the substantive allegations being heard and judged in open court and to put me to the maximum cost of pursuing justice," he added.
"With my lawyers, we will study the judgment in detail, but at this stage we intend to appeal this regrettable decision."
Mr Ashby had claimed that he was the target of "unwelcome sexual advances, unwelcome sexual comments and unwelcome suggestions of a sexual nature" while working as Mr Slipper's aide and media adviser between January and March this year.
Mr Ashby had revealed hundreds of text messages in which he claimed Mr Slipper made lewd comments, including comparing female genitalia to shellfish, and an exchange in which Mr Slipper allegedly suggested that the two have a "closer" relationship. He also claimed that Mr Slipper attempted to victimise him when he rebuffed his advances.
But the former speaker had maintained the allegations were false and that the lawsuit was a "character assassination" undertaken in an attempt to "hurt my political career, hurt me financially, destabilise the government and destroy my marriage".
He pointed to the fact that Mr Ashby made serious criminal allegations against him regarding the use of Cabcharges which were then withdrawn before the matter came to court as evidence that the entire lawsuit was little more than an attempt to generate negative publicity.
Justice Rares today upheld that argument, hitting out at the former adviser and his lawyers for making the claim for political and personal purposes.
Justice Rares said Mr Ashby had made the allegations about Cabcharges to "make a public attack on Mr Slipper so that his conduct would be reported to the police and so as to suggest that he was guilty of misusing Commonwealth funds".
"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 had ... To allow these proceedings to remain in the court would bring the administration of justice into disrepute."
The judgment also delivered a major blow to the political career of Mal Brough, the former Howard government minister and political rival of Mr Slipper within the Queensland Liberal National Party.
Justice Rares found that Mr Brough, who recently won Liberal Party preselection for Mr Slipper's seat of Fisher, acted with Mr Ashby and another Slipper staffer Karen Doane in abusing the judicial process.
This included promising to help Mr Ashby and Ms Doane find jobs within the LNP after their employment with Mr Slipper ended and arranging a meeting between Mr Ashby and prominent QC and Liberal Party member David Russell.
"The evidence established that 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," Justice Rares said.
"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 using Mr Brough to assist them in doing so."
A spokesman for Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said it had clearly been found that Mr Ashby had abused the process of the court and that the Coalition now had serious questions to answer.
"The Commonwealth welcomes the court's decision," the spokesman said in a statement on Wednesday.
"This shows how dangerously wrong and misleading [Shadow Attorney-General] Senator [George] Brandis can be in prejudging court matters. The Coalition will have some serious questions to answer about their own conduct."
Senator Brandis had previously accused Ms Roxon of securing a "political fix" for the Slipper and Ashby matter.
In a statement, Senator Brandis said the opposition was carefully studying the verdict by Justice Rares this morning.
"The Attorney-General has once again behaved inappropriately, and once again shown a misunderstanding of her appropriate constitutional role, in commenting on the case when it remains before the court pending the appeal," he said.
"The Attorney-General has also yet to explain why the Commonwealth settled its side of the proceeding in breach of the Commonwealth’s own guidelines."
Senator Brandis noted that Mr Ashby "has already announced he will appeal the decision".
In October, Mr Ashby settled his case with the federal government for a sum of $50,000 and a commitment from the government to introduce training for all MPs and senators regarding sexual harassment. He still had the civil case against Mr Slipper.
"By paying Mr Ashby a very substantial sum and for all practical purposes, conceding that he was right all along, what the Commonwealth has in effect done is concede the accuracy of his claims against Mr Slipper," Senator Brandis said in October.
In a Senate Estimates hearing in October, Mr Brandis said there was "no way in the world" that any court would summarily determine the proceedings [ie, make judgment without full trial].
"I would not have advised a client of mine in a million years that they had any chance of success at all of getting summary judgement on this material," Senator Brandis said.
- with Judith Ireland