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The Speaker of Federal Parliament, Peter Slipper, has been accused of "using his position to pursue relationships of a sexual nature with young male employees", of sending lewd text messages to a male staff member and of urinating out of a window.
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Government on a knife edge
The Peter Slipper affair is a major distraction at a time when the government is looking to the budget to improve its political fortunes.
In an application filed with the Federal Court on Friday, Mr Slipper is accused of "unwelcome sexual advances, unwelcome sexual comments and unwelcome suggestions of a sexual nature" towards his staffer James Ashby.
Mr Ashby claims the harassment occurred between January and March this year.
All claims have been denied by Mr Slipper.
Mr Ashby claims the Commonwealth knew that, in 2003 when John Howard was prime minister, Mr Slipper had a sexual relationship with another younger male member of his staff.
He says the Commonwealth "failed to take reasonable and effective steps to prevent [Mr Slipper] from utilising his office to foster sexual relationships with young male staff members".
Mr Ashby claims that as well as sexually harassing him, Mr Slipper attempted to victimise him when he rebuffed his advances.
He says he has suffered "considerable stress, humiliation and illness and is currently seeking medical assistance".
Shocked and uncomfortable
Mr Ashby claims that, in June to August 2011, he was invited to Mr Slipper's home by an unnamed third person. During the conversation, Mr Ashby revealed he was gay.
Over the next few months Mr Slipper persistently offered Mr Ashby a role as media adviser, which Mr Ashby declined. However, in December, Mr Ashby accepted the role.
Mr Ashby claims in the first week of January 2012, Mr Slipper insisted he stay in his flat in Hughes, Canberra.
On Wednesday, January 4, Mr Ashby and Mr Slipper were at the flat after work. Mr Slipper asked Mr Ashby to massage his neck, then lay on the bed with only shorts on.
As Mr Ashby massaged his boss's neck, he claims Mr Slipper "began to moan in a manner that to [him] indicated intense sexual pleasure". Mr Ashby says he felt shocked and uncomfortable and left the room.
The next morning, Mr Slipper allegedly told Mr Ashby he was "strange" and a "prude" because he showered with the door closed.
Mr Ashby claims Mr Slipper continued to shower with the door open for the rest of the week.
At the end of that week, Mr Ashby claims Mr Slipper made a "vindictive and deliberately spiteful" jibe about his weight, knowing that Mr Ashby previously had issues with his weight, saying "you look fat in that".
Mr Ashby said that, on the morning of January 14, 2012, Mr Slipper asked him: "Have you ever c--- in a guy's a--- before?"
Mr Ashby said he replied, "That's not the sort of question you ask people, Peter."
The documents also state that, a few weeks later, Mr Slipper allegedly asked Mr Ashby: "Twinks or bears - what are you into?"
Mr Ashby says he thought the question was about types of gay sexual partners and was uncomfortable, replying, "They are not questions you ask."
Mr Ashby further claims that, on March 1, Mr Slipper was watching a YouTube video Mr Ashby had prepared. He claims Mr Slipper stroked his arm and said: "You do such a beautiful job with these videos."
On March 20, Mr Slipper is alleged to have walked into Mr Ashby's office and said "Can I kiss you both". Mr Ashby says he was the only person in the room and said, "No."
Mr Ashby also claims the Commonwealth, through Mr Slipper, breached his employment contract, in particular, by "involving [Mr Ashby] in questionable conduct in relation to travel".
He claims on three occasions, he travelled with Mr Slipper in a car, which Mr Slipper said was driven by "a friend".
On each occasion, Mr Slipper is alleged to have asked the driver: "How many Cabcharges do you require?"
Mr Slipper allegedly signed blank Cabcharge vouchers and gave them to the driver.
These incidents are said to have occurred in Sydney on January 27, February 5 and February 12.
The documents state that Mr Ashby intends to make a statement to the Australian Federal Police.
Alleged text messages
Mr Ashby claims that, on or about February 1, 2012, about 7pm, the following text message exchange took place after Mr Slipper did an interview with the Sunshine Coast Daily, against Mr Ashby's advice.
Mr Ashby: "You're not funny! I can't believe you called her! We'll have to clean this mess up now!! F--- f--- f---".
Mr Slipper: "Relax my friend! x".
Mr Ashby: "It's so very hard to when you care about the bloke they keeping f----- over. I hope like hell they don't f--- u over with this report."
Mr Slipper: "Xxx".
Mr Slipper: "Would be good if you here but perhaps we are not close enough?"
[a few more messages are sent]
At 10pm, the following text exchange allegedly took place:
S: "Haha where's Tim tonight?"
S: "Gone to pick up lol".
S: "Do you think timbo is closer to me than you?"
A: "Yeah but that's to be expected. He's known u longer. That sort of stuff doesn't worry me."
S "Gone to prick [sic] up whom? And closer to you than pete?"
A: "No he's closer to u. I hardly know him".
A: "A random root lol".
A: "I gotta stop being rude to my friends. Text u when I leave".
S: "U getting roks off. Pity".
S: "If you interested we could be closer?"
A: "I think we're good already. I'm happy seeing Tim being closest. I hate stepping on toes".
S: "Your call if u want to keep degrees of separation. No toes".
S: "I told him positrion [sic] open".
S: "But your call and no hard feelings in that you only want businesslike contact. In that event of the difficulty in our personla".
A: "I don't know what type of contact you expect Peter. Perhaps u should define that u would like and I can then be clearer on my position."
S: "U want something more? U brillianmt [sic] at massages".
A: "No I'm happy the way things are. I care for u Pete but the massage is as far as it goes. Life's a lot more simpler when it's business and a few drinks after work".
S: "No problems and thanks for I".
A: "All good".
S: "Sorry things not working out but appreciate your frankness. In future in circumstances please arrange all communcoations".
S: "Thu tim as cannot guarantee availability. Sorry u missing syd harbour creises [sic: cruises]".
Mr Ashby says he appeared to be uninvited to a harbour cruise with a delegation from Samoa because he rejected the sexual advances.
Mr Ashby claims on February 2, the morning after the text message exchange, Mr Slipper sent another text:
"Ha only joking last night! How media/ daily? Sometimes I feel depressed and as tho the weight of the world is on my shoulders."
On February 26, Mr Slipper allegedly sent another text message: "Tim [surname redacted] thought you were a nice twink!"
The documents state that Tim was not Tim Knapp. The exchange continued to detail a meeting Mr Slipper had with Tim. Mr Slipper said the meeting was "Bout whether your loyalty was to the thugs in LNP or to me! I told him I was hopeful your loyalty was to me."
The documents say Mr Ashby says he has kept all the text messages on his mobile phone. They also say the phone has been "forensically examined" to ensure the messages were genuinely sent.
Staffer alleged abuse in 2003
The documents state that, in 2003, Tony Nutt, a senior adviser to Mr Howard, was told by one of Mr Slipper's staff members, Megan Hobson, of a video featuring Mr Slipper.
The video allegedly showed Mr Slipper:
- entering the bedroom of an unnamed junior male staffer via the window,
- lying on the bed in shorts and T-shirt and hugging the staffer "in an intimate fashion", and
- urinating out of the window.
The documents allege Mr Nutt told Ms Hobson to "forget all about it".
In the budget week of 2003, the male staffer is alleged to have told Ms Hobson he had been "abused" by Mr Slipper, claiming Mr Slipper made advances towards him, which he rebuffed, after an electorate event of Australia Day.
The staffer is alleged to have shown Ms Hobson scabs on his knuckles where he said he had hit a brick wall while defending himself against an attack by Mr Slipper in Adelaide.
The documents state that Ms Hobson formed the view that the relationship was consensual after watching the video.
Claim under Fair Work Act
The claim is an originating application under the Fair Work Act 2009 alleging discrimination.
The Commonwealth is named as the first respondent, and Mr Slipper the second respondent.
Mr Ashby is seeking an order that Mr Slipper undergo counselling and training in anti-discrimination law, a civil penalty against both the Commonwealth and Mr Slipper, compensation for medical expenses, interest on compensation and costs.
The matter will come before Justice Geoffrey Flick of the Federal Court on May 21 for directions.