Julia Gillard sees in the Ashby case a political strike fighter that can be deployed to try both to raise doubts about Tony Abbott’s credibility and to fend off questions about the AWU slush fund.
The judgment in the case, embarrassing for the Coalition, will be tossed back every time the opposition brings up the AWU affair.
PM attacks Abbott on court ruling
Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is rolling in 'filth' after this week's federal court ruling on the Ashby / Slipper affair.
Taunting the Coalition, one of Labor’s talking points – repeated by Julia Gillard in a steely-voiced ABC interview on Friday morning – is the demand that Liberal National party candidate and former minister Mal Brough should appear in Canberra and answer all the questions the press gallery has to put to him.
Who did that? Julia Gillard, of course, in two news conferences about her role with the AWU outriders and the entity they set up. Gillard even suggested she’d make her press conference room available for Brough. All right, message received, barb understood.
The cynic might say that Justice Steven Rares has answered most of the questions about Brough, whom he found plotted with James Ashby against Peter Slipper. The big question regarding Brough is one for others: should he remain the candidate for Fisher?
Tony Abbott is of course saying yes but his rationale is weak.
Pressed in London on why Brough should not be disendorsed, he said the case was under appeal (actually, it is not yet). So is he suggesting he would take a different view if an appeal was lost? I don’t think so.
Second, he said Brough had been ''quite transparent and upfront about his involvement''. That is hardly the impression from the judgment.
Gillard is contrasting the Coalition’s pursuit of her for ''something that happened 17 years ago and has absolutely no implications for public life today'', with Abbott’s ''fudging'' on a contemporary scandal.
She’s right about the fudging. Abbott continues to say he had no ''specific'' knowledge of what was coming from Ashby. It remains unclear whether the well-worn ''specific'' is there to cover general rumours or something else.
Gillard is also correct in saying that the opposition’s suggestion the government should restore Slipper to the Speakership if it thinks a great injustice was done to him is a straw man. Even if it wanted to – which it certainly doesn’t – it could not because that would need cross bench support, which would not be forthcoming.
But her line that ''Mr Slipper resigned appropriately having seen in the public domain texts of an unacceptable nature'' overlooks one inconvenient fact – her own past words.
Her famous misogyny speech was given when she was opposing a Coalition no-confidence motion against Slipper. She condemned his sexist text messages but argued:''I also believe that, in making a decision about the speakership, this parliament should recognise that there is court case in progress and that the judge has reserved his decision. .. this parliament should see that conclusion. I believe that is the appropriate path forward and that people will then have an opportunity to make up their minds with the fullest information available to them.''
Behind the scenes, key crossbenchers were twisting Slipper’s arm and he quit within hours. But if the path Gillard advocated publicly had been followed, Slipper would have still been Speaker when this week’s court judgment came.