Rival Brough met Slipper accuser: claim
ANOTHER prominent Liberal is said to have met the staffer at the centre of sexual harassment allegations against Speaker Peter Slipper in the days before the explosive claims were made public.
A Sunshine Coast LNP member has told the National Times that James Ashby met with Mr Slipper’s long-time political rival and former Howard cabinet minister Mal Brough on the Sunshine Coast in early April when he was still working as Mr Slipper’s press secretary.
The meeting is said to have taken place on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast - Mr Brough and Mr Slipper’s home territory. It is not known whether it was Mr Ashby or Mr Brough that initiated the meeting.
Mal Brough ... allegedly met James Ashby. Photo: Andrew Taylor
Mr Brough - who is heavily backed to win preselection for Mr Slipper’s seat of Fisher - did not respond to repeated requests for comment today.
The claim of the meeting with Mr Ashby comes after a week in which Liberal powerbroker Christopher Pyne was forced to alter his recollection three times over his dealings with Mr Ashby.
Mr Pyne conceded last night he may have sought the contact details of Mr Ashby following a late night drinking session in the speaker’s office, despite having claimed for three days he had no reason to request the details and that he could not remember if he had.
James Ashby ... accuses Peter Sliiper of sexual harassment.
Labor has spent the week fanning speculation that Mr Pyne and others in the Coalition had prior knowledge of Mr Ashby’s sexual harassment claim lodged against Mr Slipper, which has forced Mr Slipper to stand down indefinitely from the chair.
Treasurer Wayne Swan has called on Mr Pyne to release his phone records while Trade Minister Craig Emerson alleged an opposition ’’cover-up’’.
But Mr Pyne angrily rejected the suggestions as ‘‘fanciful’’ and has consistently maintained that he has never had ‘‘any contact of any nature’’ with James Ashby in relation to the Federal Court action.
Denies the allegations ... Peter Slipper. Photo: Channel 10 news
Opposition leader Tony Abbott has admitted Mr Pyne sent an email asking for the contact details of Mr Ashby.
But Mr Abbott said that claims the Coalition had something to do with Mr Slipper’s staffer Mr Ashby making criminal allegations and sexual harassment claims against the Speaker were ’’wrong, false’’ and a ’’desperate smear from a desperate government’’.
The rancour between Mr Brough and Mr Slipper is deep and long lasting. Last September it was reported Mr Slipper threatened to quit the LNP and move to the crossbenches if branch members backed Mr Brough in a vote to become the branch director of the Queensland Liberal National Party in his electorate of Fisher.
Mr Brough won the vote and Mr Slipper later denied writing to members in his Sunshine Coast seat of Fisher that his position as a federal LNP MP would become "untenable" if Mr Brough were elected to the position.
After the ballot, Mr Slipper said he would attempt to work with Mr Brough for the good of the party but conceded it would not be an easy task.
‘‘It’s going to be very difficult given the robust relationship I have with Mal Brough," Mr Slipper said at the time.
"He only sought to join the party with a view to supplanting me as the member for Fisher. It does not make for an easy friendship."
Mr Brough has long been expected to win preselection for Fisher and was virtually assured of the ballot position well before Mr Slipper defected from the LNP to take up the Speaker’s position.
A Cabinet Minister during the Howard Years from 2006, Mr Brough was the public face of the government’s controversial Northern Territory Intervention.
He lost his seat of Longman in the 2007 election, following a 10.3 per cent swing to the Labor Party’s Jon Sullivan.
Mr Brough has long been touted for a return to federal politics and is considered by many in the Coalition as a future leadership candidate.
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