Illustration: Simon Letch
The investigative bloodhounds of the press have let Tony Abbott and other leading Coalition ornaments off the hook.
There are still so many loose threads dangling off the James Ashby case it is amazing that those dedicated to holding politicians to account have let this one pass.
Maybe they are exhausted after expending enormous efforts and entire forests of newsprint in going nowhere with the Jihad on Julia - i.e. the Prime Minister and the AWU slush fund extravaganza.
It does seem that further inquiries should be made about the Ashby v Slipper affair and the role leading opposition people may have had in the concoction or encouragement of legal proceedings and associated publicity for a political motive.
It is not as though there are no smoking guns, and a careful reading of Justice Steven Rares's judgment of December 12 lays a lot of it out for us.
First up, let's remind ourselves what Rares said about the quality of Ashby's grief at the hands of Peter Slipper, MP:
''There was no hint in contemporaneous texts with his friends, of Mr Ashby feeling upset as a result of sexual harassment. Rather, those texts suggested that he was planning to use the record of his texts with Mr Slipper to empower others in a way that would affect the balance of power in the House of Representatives.''
The evidence shows that Ashby had no trouble putting Slipper in his place when the former speaker complained that his adviser was helping political enemies in Queensland's Liberal National Party.
Yet, strangely, he made no complaint to Slipper about ''the relatively minor incidents'' of sexual harassment that he took to court.
Ashby was in no doubt about the purpose of his mission. In bringing his case he was recorded as saying that he was making ''national decisions'' and ''saving the nation''.
He and his colleague in the speaker's office, Karen Doane, had been ''chosen to take this journey'' together. They were our saviours, while at the same time they were trying to save their own backsides by buttering up the Queensland LNP member Mal Brough, who is seeking a return to Parliament via the seat held by Slipper.
They were hoping Brough could slide them into cosy sinecures in the Campbell Newman government or with LNP bigwigs like Clive Palmer.
Part of the quid pro quo was that they supplied to Brough copies of Slipper's diaries. Copies also went to the News Ltd reporter Steve (''I'm here to help'') Lewis, who was the front man for the get-Slipper agenda.
No one has extracted a proper answer to the question why Brough was purloining his political opponent's diaries.
The timeline goes like this:
April 2, 2012: Doane confirms that Brough has forwarded her CV to people in the LNP.
April 3: Ashby contacts Harmers Workplace Lawyers about launching his action against the Commonwealth and the then speaker.
April 4: Lewis and Ashby meet at a cafe on the Sunshine Coast. The same day Lewis texts to Ashby, in relation to Slipper, ''we will get him''.
We know that there was excitement within opposition ranks in March, just four weeks before Ashby filed in the Federal Court on April 20.
The frontbench fixer Christopher Pyne was contacting people in the speaker's office asking for Ashby's email address and mobile number. On March 19, Pyne spent two hours having drinkies with Ashby. ''I was simply passing the time of day. We had a beer and a political discussion,'' Pyne revealed under questioning, much later.
At the same time Ashby was laying baits for Slipper. He asked if he could accompany the speaker on an overseas trip with a parliamentary delegation.
The request was declined.
Rares outlined evidence that Ashby had confided to friends about his plans to singlehandedly make more perilous the government's fingernail hold on power. Brough was in on it; a frontbench figure in the LNP, Mark McArdle, was in on it; other prominent LNP people in Queensland knew what was being hatched; News Ltd was footing hotel bills, yet Pyne and Tony Abbott were comatose and had no inkling that the nation was about to be ''saved'' by Ashby.
It seems all the more extraordinary because there was never going to be anything in this case for Ashby.
The action was designed to maximise and inflame media coverage; to help Brough and the Coalition in their continuing campaign to discredit the Gillard government.
The investigative plods in the media have been eerily shy about exploring the involvement of Abbott in this grubby legal set-up.
One of the smoking guns is Abbott's press release that appeared in lock-step with the onset of the action.
There has been a tiny discussion about the timing of this release. The metadata on his statement, in which he insists Slipper step aside, says it was created at 11.08pm on Friday, April 20, before any of the News Ltd papers reported the originating application the following morning.
Abbott's people explained that this was because the computer server timestamps were sometimes out by as much as 10 hours.
The online IT geek Sortius (sortius-is-a-geek.com) pointed out that separate reports put the creation of Abbott's release at either 11.08pm or 11.32pm on April 20 and that it was sent at 9.17am the next day.
In the view of Sortius: ''If the clocks were 10 hours out, that would mean the documents were created, typed up and converted to PDF nine minutes before being sent out, or, it was created AFTER being sent. Something doesn't match up here.''
Ashby and his former solicitor, Michael Harmer, are both seeking leave to appeal. They don't like what the judge said.