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Concealment hurts Coalition's clout

Embroiled in the Slipper affair ... Mal Brough.

Embroiled in the Slipper affair ... Mal Brough. Photo: Glenn Hunt

Suddenly, the Coalition has discovered the sanctity of process. It was two Saturdays ago when news broke that Peter Slipper had been accused by a staff member, James Hunter Ashby, of the criminal rorting of Cabcharges and that Ashby had also lodged civil action in the Federal Court alleging sexual harassment.

Slipper was sidelined as the Speaker pending the resolution or otherwise of the criminal allegations, while the government argued there was no precedent for having to stand aside when subject to civil action.

In other words, if Slipper were cleared of the Cabcharge misuse, he should be able to return to the chair while the civil claims were outstanding.

Julia Gillard argued there was ''a clear set of precedents where people have continued to function in their office while the subject of civil matters''.

Politics and proper process are odd bedfellows and Gillard's case failed the front bar test.

A week later she was forced into the humiliating backdown in which she spoke of nebulous lines being crossed and dark clouds over Parliament as she agreed Slipper should be sidelined until both sets of allegations were resolved.

Nobody in the Coalition or anywhere else was arguing for precedent or process to be upheld.

Until yesterday, after the Slipper affair embroiled the former Howard government minister Mal Brough, threatened his planned political comeback, and raised legitimate questions about who else knew what.

''Frankly when there is an allegation of sexual harassment it should be left to the courts without all of this speculation around it and any attempts to intimidate the staffer around it,'' the shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, said.

At least Hockey stuck his head up. In what must be a world first, neither Tony Abbott nor any of his frontbenchers did anything public on Saturday, when the details of Brough's role emerged.

Abbott had spent the week fending off questions about what he meant when he said he had no ''specific knowledge'' of the allegations before they were made public. And after it was revealed by the Herald's Jessica Wright that Christopher Pyne's contact with Ashby a month before the allegations were made went well beyond the casual ''hello'' Pyne originally purported it to be. Pyne shifted his story incrementally all last week.

As for Brough, a week ago he described as ''nonsense'' a suggestion he had known about Ashby's legal action before it was launched.

Then, on Friday when reporters starting hearing the opposite from Liberal National Party sources, Brough changed his tune.

He refused to return calls from the Herald and other papers - in two known cases he just hung up - and instead opted for a tell-all interview with The Australian, complete with a front page picture of himself at home with his wife, Sue.

As one Coalition MP said yesterday: ''A sure sign you're in the shit.''

Brough argued that Ashby was troubled and had come to him for advice and Brough advised him to go the police and get a lawyer.

Brough was in no position to play this role.

He lost his Sunshine Coast seat of Longman at the 2007 election. Afterwards, he fell out with the party because he opposed the merger of the Liberal and National parties in Queensland.

After a rapprochement, he decided to knock off Slipper for preselection and take his seat of Fisher. It was this move, which had the imprimatur of the party hierarchy, that made Slipper's decision to rat on the LNP and take the Speaker's job much easier.

Brough has not yet won the preselection, but is the favourite because the branches have been stacked.

So, prima facie, you have somebody who was to be running against Slipper at the next election, meeting in secret with Slipper's staffer and advising him on legal action against his boss.

If you accept Brough's claim that he was helping a distressed individual, it still should have occurred to him how this would look if it ever got out.

Meeting Ashby once was OK but after that, Brough should have referred him immediately to somebody who had no interest in seeing Slipper harmed politically, regardless of whether he felt Ashby's grievances were genuine.

Instead he met him two more times.

Inside the Coalition, where Brough is not that popular, there is broad agreement on this.

The sexual harassment claims are serious - for both Slipper and Ashby - and their veracity should be determined by the court.

But it is little wonder an embattled Labor, itself subject to innuendo and disregard for process for so many months now, did not need to be asked twice to go after this one. Especially if as rumoured there is more to come regarding the meetings with Brough.

For the Coalition, a pattern of concealment is not a strong platform from which to launch an attack on the government when Parliament resumes tomorrow.

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107 comments

  • In January Anthony Albanese parroted Labor's line on 'due process':

    "Journalist: The reality is there is an inquiry going on

    Anthony Albanese: They should be left to those processes and shouldn’t be intervened on by politicians, as we didn’t seek to intervene into the process with regard to the one member of Parliament who, this term I know of, has been charged with something; that was someone in South Australia.

    Journalist: Well, if you’re not prepared to say whether you would protect him or cut him loose, can you say at this point in time you fully support him?

    Anthony Albanese: I fully support Craig Thomson as the elected Member for Dobell, as I fully support everyone else who is an elected member of Parliament. I think in this country people are entitled to a presumption of innocence. It’s as simple as that."

    25/01/12

    Transcript of Q&A, National Press Club Address.
    http://www.minister.infrastructure.gov.au/aa/pressconf/2012/APC003_2012.aspx

    Now PC Albanese along with Judge Carr and Seargeant Swan want to play Inspector Clouseau, despite the fact that the real police are already investigating Slipper's case.

    Just as it previously ignored official warnings over the conduct of both Thomson and Slipper, so it now ignores its own advice on 'due process'.

    As always with Gillard's government, someone else is to blame.

    Commenter
    SteveH.
    Date and time
    May 07, 2012, 7:42AM
    • Way to miss the point SteveH. The Coalition wanted blood on this issue and pushed and pushed and the got what they wanted. Now the shoe is on the other foot all of a sudden the rules need to be followed. Wake up mate.

      Commenter
      Jason
      Location
      CAnberra
      Date and time
      May 07, 2012, 8:26AM
    • The problem with the way Abbott is 'opposing' the government is more the damage he is doing to what is left of ethics and fairness in politics.

      Only conservatives can believe that they are entitled to sleaze and slime everywhere for the noble end of gaining office, but then to scream like stuck pigs when their opponents see the success of this and give the same back.

      There is one thing that Abbott definitely deserves blame for. That is dragging political discourse to the lowest level in at least 40 years, if not ever.

      And slavish lackeys, like Steve H, can take their share of the blame too, in supporting the destruction of civil political discourse.

      Commenter
      Johnno
      Date and time
      May 07, 2012, 8:32AM
    • Brough and Pyne have raised questions about how the information has been used by the liberals both within the electorate (Brough) and the Parliament (Pyne).

      I can agree that labor needs to be careful how they handle the sexual harassment claims particularly as attacks such as Carr's could backfire badly on labor if their is substance to the claims. I note that labor has stepped back about the misuse of cabcharge claims since the AFP commenced a criminal investigation it may be in their best interest to challange the libs involvement but to step back on Ashby until such time as the investigation is completed.

      Having said that the LIbs look slippery in this and one can hope that this is Tony Abbotts utegate (and he is rolled like Turnbull) but I suspect that the weekend of silence is to ensure that he, and the others, have a new story.

      Neither the libs or labor come out of this well, the libs because of the perception that they are behind it, and labor because of the perception of denial of justice for Ashby, something they claimed for Thompson and Slipper. Carr's comments are dangerous for him and labor.

      Once again our politicans set a new low standard.

      Commenter
      Reality
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 07, 2012, 8:37AM
    • Nice attempt at diversion Steve, but you know this is a LNP set up with one lie after another in a very short space of time. So does everyone else!.
      That's why Hockey is out on a 'harm minimisation' mission and Abbott is hiding from the cameras formulating some spin like yours.
      The whole sad event doesn't fit well with the cons low target/zero policy/do nothing/oppose everything self serving.

      Commenter
      Danger Ranger
      Date and time
      May 07, 2012, 8:39AM
    • I agree, SteveH. Carr's nasty little smear campaign came unstuck before he could put his foot on the accelerator. I often wonder if there is any relationship between Carr's brain and his mouth because he makes an awful lot of gaffs for a so-called intellectual.
      And poor old sanctimonious Anthony. Do as I say, not as I do Albanese, the arch hypocrit, once again tries to hang Labor's stuff-ups on Abbott. About par for the course.

      Commenter
      Allan-1
      Date and time
      May 07, 2012, 8:48AM
    • Steve H
      Stevie old boy, you really do need a hobby...model aeros perhaps?
      The whole point here is that the Conservative Party (there is nothing "liberal" about them) and the National Party have put themselves forward as the hope of the nation to save us from this deceitful amoral aetheistic government.
      Yet what do they offer? What?
      Just more of the same sleazy stuff.
      And they can't even count.

      Commenter
      Tony
      Date and time
      May 07, 2012, 8:51AM
    • OMG Steve, I can't believe you wrote that.... urghh yes I can. You are so unbelievable - The Coalition can do anything at all and you will still blame Labor.

      The Coalition are clearly the snakes in the grass in this story.

      C'mon Steve, who's paying you.

      Commenter
      Jara
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 07, 2012, 8:52AM
    • Oh, please spare us all from your lack of wit. You can't defend either side. The day the court submissions detailing the Slipper allegations were published was the day due process went out the window. This is politics at its grubbiest. No-one should be pointing fingers, as no-one has the high moral ground. It all just stinks.

      Commenter
      Julia
      Date and time
      May 07, 2012, 8:53AM
    • Could not agre more.
      Where was the investigation when Julia bought Slipper's vote after doubling his salary and giving him a $ 220,000.00 per year expense account?
      Appartantly it is alright to buy somebodies vote, but it is not alright to advise someone regarding a sexual harassment case. So much for protecting, "working families" just protect your own backside.
      I fear the mud will stick to Julia and her attack dogs, yet again.

      Commenter
      Julia F.O.S.
      Location
      Ermington.
      Date and time
      May 07, 2012, 8:56AM

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