60 Minutes (Channel 9’s) current affairs program will on Sunday night air an interview with James Ashby. The promotional teaser doing the rounds of social media suggests that the program will reveal a secret plot that will “rock the Abbott Government”.
The language used in the teaser is provocatively inviting for those, like me, who have followed the case closely, and have been appalled by the alleged plot to dismiss an elected government.
In the teaser there is combined image of Liberal MPs Mal Brough, Tony Abbott, Christopher Pyne and Wyatt Roy and the voiceover saying “what happened behind closed doors” before a cut to journalist Liz Hayes saying to Ashby “This is dynamite, you agree?”. Ashby says “yes”.
The interview is said to be pretty explosive, with references to a “secret plot”, new sexual harassment claims and the promise that “finally, the whistleblower reveals all”.
Often these sorts of promotions can fizz out to nothing of substance but it I hope for the sake of our democracy that all is revealed. What follows is the piece I wrote following the upholding of an appeal against Justice Rares’ findings.
It has remained a mystery as to why Ashby dropped the case when he could have had his day in court. My guess is that the conservative forces used James Ashby in an attempt to bring down the Gillard Government. They financed the plot and when it failed they left Ashby high and dry and in debt. Now it’s payback time.
Has Ashby Closed the Gate?
In 1975 as a youngish fervent supporter of Labor and democracy I was disgusted when an unelected Governor General sacked an elected Prime Minister. That constitutional crisis left me somewhat shattered and politically disillusioned. When it died down I thought I would never see anything similar again in my lifetime. But in November 2012 the shit did hit the fan again and my outrage was ignited once more.
James Ashby bought a sexual harassment case against the speaker of the House of Representatives Peter Slipper. The Judge hearing the case Justice Rares found that in essence the case was politically motivated, vexatious, and among other things an abuse of process. In effect he said that the case was an attempt to bring down the speaker and damage his reputation.
I was outraged. I have been following politics for more years that I care to remember. Never in all that time had a political party been accused of trying to use the courts to destroy a government. I will repeat that in case the reader loses the magnitude of the statement.
“Never in all that time had a political party been accused of trying to use the courts to bring down a government”.
Justice Rares in his judgement determined this to be so.
Without wishing to labour the point. Does the reader fully grasp the implication of the judge’s ruling? He described it was an abuse of process. This was not only the conservatives trying to bring down Labor but democracy its self.
Why on earth if Ashby felt threatened by slipper wouldn’t he run it past all the available avenues open to him? And all he could ever hope for in terms of compensation would be $30,000 or thereabouts. There is after all a rule known as the “Genuine Steps Rule” This is a procedure introduced in 2011 that requires parties to try and sort out their disputes before taking court action. In this case, the Judge questioned why a relatively minor matter like sexual harassment claims could not have been settled another way. Why then would he be going to court knowing that it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to redeem that amount? Simply doesn’t make sense. Or a bit sus as we say in Australia. Unless it has some sinister political motivation.
The claim by James Ashby was taken by the main stream media as an invitation to be rid of the speaker and a government they detested. Consequently the Murdoch Press went after Slipper like Pit Bull terriers to a bear. Thinking they had the bear by the balls they were all over the story painting Slipper as the villain with page upon page of despicable tabloid commentary.
Then came Justice Rare’s ruling. A ruling totality unexpected by the Murdoch press. The tabloids relegated the story to the back pages adjoining the sports columns never to be heard of again. By their silence and lying by omission the main stream media decided to join the conspiracy.
David Marr described it thus:
“This has been the great disappearing scandal of Australian politics”.
Then a leave to appeal notice was lodged with the full bench of Federal Court by James Ashby and his solicitor Michael Harmer against the ruling by Justice Stephen Rares. The Federal Court agreed to hear the Leave to appeal and the Appeal concurrently.
If the court were to uphold Rare’s original verdict the repercussions would have been very serious indeed. The Federal Police would be compelled to investigate. They had been reluctant to do so although there was nothing to stop them. It is yet another mystery in this sorry saga. Brough, Pyne, Abbott and many others (especially from Queensland) would have to answer some very pertinent questions and explain the many lies told so far.
David Marr wrote:
“Tony Abbott also has a stake in the appeal. He has stood by Brough despite his friend being caught trying to hide his role in the campaign to destroy Slipper. Abbott has never criticised his part in the operation. Despite Brough’s lies, he praises his candour: “I want to make it clear that Mal has been very upfront about his involvement in this”.
The involvement of journalist Steve Lewis and News Limited would certainly have come into question. On the other hand if they should decide to give Ashby his day in court the effect would be much the same. Everything would be revealed.
Then came the appeal ruling.
The full bench of the Federal Court in February of this year overruled Justice Rares finding that the case was an:
“abuse of process” designed to cause “significant public, reputational and political damage”.
“We are satisfied that the evidence before the primary judge did not warrant the adverse finding said to constitute an abuse of the court’s process on the two bases found and did not warrant the rejection by his Honour of the sworn and unchallenged evidence of each of Ashby and Harmer.”
The decision meant the case would now proceed to a full hearing.
Mr Ashby had this to say after the court’s ruling:
‘’The case has never been politically based’’
“I’ve always believed the original court decision was wrong. It was unjust and not based on all the facts,” Mr Ashby said.
“We will now continue with the legal fight and my chance to obtain justice for my original claim’’
Then on June 17 he dropped it all. Why?
He gave these reasons:
Mr Ashby said he was aware of reports Mr Slipper was mentally unwell and he did not want to continue lengthy proceedings that could cause further harm.
“After deep reflection and consultation with those close to me, I now have decided to seek leave to discontinue my Federal Court action against Peter Slipper,” he said in a statement.
“This has been an intense and emotionally draining time for me and my family, taking its toll on us all.”
What bullshit. Someone with deep pockets funded Ashby and if his case was well founded and his accusation of sexual harassment sincere why wouldn’t he proceed. There can only be one reason or perhaps two. He was reimbursed for not doing so and the LNP were shit frightened of what might come out in open court.
Ashbygate had the potential to be the greatest political scandal in Australia’s history. The public should have been outraged at this attempt to bring down an elected government. The Main Stream Media thus far have treated the scandal with a disinterest that borders on journalist incompetence or deliberate neglect.
I am still outraged by this sinister event in Australia’s political history. To think that politicians could so treat our democracy with such distain sickens me. Our citizens should rise above party politics and see this attempt to bring down the speaker and the government for the conspiracy that it was.
It is incumbent on the next Labor Government to announce a Royal Commission into this sordid affair.
Here is a link to Slippers response.