Date: May 07 2012
THE sexual harassment case against the Speaker, Peter Slipper, has descended into an unedifying brawl between the major parties with both sides accusing the other of foul play.
Following revelations over the weekend that the former Howard government minister Mal Brough counselled Mr Slipper's accuser, James Hunter Ashby, over the action he took, the government said the whole affair smells of a set-up.
The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said yesterday that Mr Brough and the opposition frontbencher Christopher Pyne had changed their stories over the past week about their levels of interaction with Mr Ashby before the allegations were made.
''The opposition should be fully answering each and every question put to them on this matter,'' she said.
On Saturday, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, effectively accused Mr Ashby of being part of a political plot.
''This Ashby seems more rehearsed than a kabuki actor,'' Senator Carr tweeted.
Yesterday, he followed up: ''Everyone looking forward to Abbott media conference on record of happy consultations between Ashby, Pyne, other coalition figures.''
The opposition was outraged at the imputation the civil claims of sexual harassment Mr Ashby had made, as well as criminal allegations of the misuse of taxi entitlements, were fabricated.
The shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, said he was appalled and that everyone should back off and allow the legal process to unfold.
''It doesn't matter whether you're male or female - where there's sexual harassment in the workplace, it needs to be dealt with by the police and by the courts and that's where it should stay,'' he said. ''If there is any insinuation or any suggestion of a conspiracy, it will inevitably appear before the courts. It will be used as evidence or they will call people as witnesses.''
Mr Pyne, who had drinks with Mr Ashby about a month before he lodged his complaint, said Senator Carr's tweets showed he lacked judgment and said he should apologise.
The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, laid low all weekend following the revelations about Mr Brough's involvement.
After initially describing as ''nonsense'' suggestions he had advance knowledge about Mr Ashby's claims, Mr Brough admitted on Friday he had met him three times about the matter and advised him to go to the police and get a lawyer. Mr Brough even arranged legal representation.
Mr Brough is seeking to re-enter politics in Mr Slipper's Sunshine Coast seat of Fisher. He is seeking preselection and is the favourite to win. If Mr Slipper ran again, as an independent, he would be up against Mr Brough.
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