Date: August 11 2012
James Ashby seemed aware from the outset how close his new job brought him to influence and power.
On January 22, three weeks after he started work as Peter Slipper's adviser and the day Julia Gillard backflipped on her pokies deal with crossbencher Andrew Wilkie (in part, because Slipper's defection had given her some leeway in the knife-edge Parliament), he was texting his new boss about how he might leverage his power.
''Or would you be able to convince Abbott not to run an LNP [Liberal National Party] candidate against you if you brought down the Government? You would effectively bring down the carbon tax too. Hmmm, you are in a very powerful position Slipper, the nation is definitely watching,'' Ashby wrote.
The nation was certainly watching three months later when Ashby lodged a sexual harassment claim against his boss, forcing Slipper to stand aside from the speakership and spilling into the public gaze hundreds of sometimes frank, often personal and frequently profane text exchanges between the pair.
Over five hours on the night of February 1, for example, text messages were ricocheting back and forth between them.
Many of Ashby's other allegations - about his boss groaning during back massages, showering with the door open and stroking his employee's arm - have made for more sensational headlines since the former radio announcer and public relations adviser first lodged a complaint on April 20 against the married father of two.
But the February 1 exchanges come closest to a discussion of the nature of the relationship between the two men. When put side by side with other Ashby texts, revealed in court documents lodged by Slipper's legal team, they shed light on the young adviser's complicated loyalties.
Ashby - who says he was at dinner with friends and later at home with his flatmate during the exchange - was at first concerned Slipper had done an interview with the often-hostile newspaper, the Sunshine Coast Daily, against his advice. Slipper said he should relax.
''Very hard to when you care about the bloke they keep f---ing over. I hope like hell they don't f--- you over with this report,'' Ashby replied shortly after 7pm, according to documents lodged with the Federal Court.
Hours later, Slipper texted Ashby: ''Would be good if you here but perhaps we are not close enough?''
Referring to another Slipper staffer with whom, Ashby says, Slipper was rumoured to be having a ''relationship'', Ashby wrote back: ''Ha, Ha, where's Tim tonight''. Slipper replied: ''Missing''.
Ashby, who is openly gay, says: ''I just wrote back 'Gone to pick up. LOL'.'' Ashby said he was ''trying to keep it light-hearted cause I didn't know where it was going and I wasn't fishing for anything but I just wanted to deflect it''.
At 10.30pm, Slipper texted Ashby: ''You getting rocks off? Pity'' and ''If you interested we could be closer''.
Ashby, who was by now at home and reading the texts to his flatmate, replied: ''I think we are good already. I'm happy seeing Tim being closest. I hate stepping on toes'', adding a smiley face.
Slipper responded: ''Your call if you want to keep degrees of separation, no toes'' and ''But your call and no hard feelings in that you only want business like contact …''
Ashby says his flatmate, a 42-year-old ''retired scientist'', advised him Slipper hadn't really said anything ''too far'' but ''you have to be clear what he wants''.
So Ashby texted: ''I don't know what type of contact you expect Peter. Perhaps you should define what you would like and I can then be clear on my position.''
Slipper replied: ''You want something more. You're brilliant at massage.'' Ashby responded: ''No I'm happy the way things are. Care for you Pete but the massage is as far as it goes, life's a lot more simpler when it's business and a few drinks after work.''
Slipper replied: ''No problems'' and ''appreciate your frankness. In future, in circumstances, please arrange all communications through Tim as cannot guarantee availability. Sorry you are missing Sydney Harbour cruises.''
Ashby says he was ''annoyed'' because he believed he was being punished by being excluded from an official harbour cruise with the Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa for refusing what his revised statement of claim says was the Speaker ''pressuring or entreating him to engage in a relationship of emotional intimacy and acts of sexual intimacy''.
Ashby also says he did end up going on a cruise the following week.
Phone records appear to indicate Ashby discussed his concerns with the LNP member for Caloundra, Mark McArdle, a rival of Slipper's, soon after this exchange. A text the next day said ''this is 100 per cent confidential''.
Within days, it appears he may also have talked with other friends.
In a text on February 4, a friend called Tania advised Ashby: ''Am concerned you will not be protected … pass the text forward in hard copy only to Mark - let him move it forward. Backup phone, delete messages, put in safe and let it be. A smoking gun usually means someone has already been shot! Don't let it be you.''
Ashby responded: ''I don't want to use for my personal power. It will empower someone else definitely. Will I be rewarded or condemned? … I need protection, you're right.''
In a February 3 text with a friend identified as Martin FBI, Ashby says: ''Thanks for being supportive in a moment when a fella needs real mates to make life changing decisions. National decisions actually.''
And, in another February 3 exchange with a friend called Paul Nagle, he says: ''I'm serious when I ask this. Would u put a bullet in my head to save the nation.''
In his deposition, Ashby says he told Slipper's media adviser, Karen Doane, about his concerns and decided against taking action.
''We let it go … but I was also of the mindset that he's been told now, it's been made clear, I'm not interested and I shouldn't have any more issues. But it never stopped,'' Ashby says in a statement provided to the court.
But weeks after he was considering taking action, Ashby was professing total loyalty to his employer.
On February 26, after Slipper was concerned when he discovered Ashby had made a video for an LNP MP, Ashby reassured Slipper: ''I have made it clear to you before that I [have] your best interests at heart … I would not bring you into disrepute thru my actions … I am more than loyal … I have no respect for Mal Brough and I never will … Karen [Doane] and I have only one priority, your office and your future political career.''
In early to mid-March, according to the Commonwealth's affidavit, Ashby proposed that he accompany Slipper, at Ashby's own expense, on the Hungarian leg of an overseas trip. On March 16, Slipper emailed Ashby to say it would not be possible.
The case is also entwined with the deep enmities of the LNP on the Sunshine Coast, particularly those between Slipper, who resigned from the LNP when he made the shock decision to accept Labor's offer of the speakership, and the man who has now won LNP preselection for the seat, the former Howard government minister Mal Brough.
Long before he was employed, Ashby offered Slipper, via text message, to ''put my tactical brain into action to see U give Mal [Brough] a carving up'' and referred to Brough in texts as ''that little f---er''.
But on March 23, just three months after starting work for Slipper, Ashby was confiding in his boss's rival at one of three secret meetings with Brough and his wife. Brough said he advised Ashby to get a lawyer.
On March 26, Ashby advised McArdle he had decided to proceed. On April 10, he flew to Sydney to speak to a legal team and a News Ltd journalist, staying at News Ltd's expense. Slipper began asking questions about Ashby and Doane's sick leave, prompting this exchange.
Slipper: James. How feeling? What actually wrong with you?
Ashby: Pissing blood. Lots of it. Not well.
Texts suggest Ashby had been sending Brough pages from Slipper's private diaries, for dates requested by the journalist. Doane was sending Brough her CV to get help with applying for jobs with the new Queensland state government and for billionaire Clive Palmer at the Palmer Coolum Resort.
Doane also updated Brough about Ashby's trip to Sydney: ''Hi Mal, Today went reasonably well and I believe James understood he needs to follow the legal advice to have all his facts sighted and his deposition taken (tomm) before it goes to press.''
Even before he was employed by Slipper, text exchanges between Ashby and Slipper had been extremely frank.
In October 2011, they were discussing a friend of Ashby's called Bill.
Slipper asked if Bill was ''the drought breaker''. Ashby replied: ''No, neither of us feel like rushing into anything would be a good idea. Slow and steady wins the race.''
After a few more texts, Slipper writes: ''Yes, but given your obvious charm, thought Bill would have been keen to run up the white flag.'' And later, ''I did have a sweet view of Bill's surrender''.
Ashby: What's that mean?
Slipper: Just my vivid imagination. And warped sense of humour. And later: ''Did you lose your maidenhood again.''
Ashby: What's that.
Slipper: Your virtual hymen.
Ashby: You're weird …
Slipper: Weird??? What you mean Ru offended?
Ashby: No not offended. I don't offend that easy.
Ashby alleges that after he began working for Slipper, the Speaker began behaving in a way that was discriminatory and caused Ashby offence, humiliation and stress.
The Commonwealth alleges Ashby's case is vexatious and designed to vilify Slipper and damage his reputation. They say Ashby made no attempt to raise or resolve his concerns before he lodged his case and they were made public.
The case, still crucial for the parliamentary numbers, is likely to continue until at least the end of the year.
A hearing in October will consider a constitutional argument about the forwarding of the diary extracts before returning to the sexual harassment claims.
Meanwhile, Slipper does not sit in the Speaker's chair but continues with his other duties and still draws his Speaker's salary.
Ashby and Doane remain on the Commonwealth payroll. Both are on extended ''special leave''.
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