Chris Johnson June 16, 2012
A campaign to reignite the political ambitions of former Howard government minister Mal Brough is at the centre of the case against Speaker Peter Slipper, according to suggestions made in the Federal Court.
Mr Slipper is being sued by his former staffer, James Ashby, for sexual harassment. He has stepped aside from the Speaker's chair to deal with the allegations, which he denies. The case took a new twist yesterday when it was revealed the court had subpoenaed Mr Brough.
Lawyers for the Commonwealth told the court Mr Ashby had colluded with another member of Mr Slipper's staff, Karen Doane, to undermine their boss's reputation and help Mr Brough and others. Mr Brough was indigenous affairs minister in the Howard government but lost his federal seat in the 2007 election.
Yesterday, the lawyers said they had phone records supporting their argument that a political campaign had been waged against Mr Slipper out of his own office.
They said Mr Ashby had passed on information to both Mr Brough and News Ltd reporter Steve Lewis. Both men were subpoenaed.
The Commonwealth's lawyers want the case to be struck out, saying it was an abuse of the legal process. But Mr Ashby's legal team is arguing against that.
Mr Slipper was a member of the Liberal National Party but defected at the end of last year to become an independent Speaker of the House of Representatives, in a deal stitched up between him and the Labor government.
Yesterday, Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said all of the other people involved in the case against Mr Slipper ''cast a very different light'' on the allegations.
''In general terms, our application that this was an abuse of process goes to the fact that a number of other participants, other than the applicant, were party to formulating this complaint with the clear intention of publicising it before it was filed, with the clear intention of harming Mr Slipper and advantaging his political opponents,'' she said.
''There are a large number of Queensland Liberal National Party identities that are clearly going to be brought up within the course of these hearings, and Mr Brough is one of those.''
Yesterday, the court heard allegations that Mr Ashby and Ms Doane, worked to undermine Mr Slipper while they were on his staff by leaking information to Lewis, and to Mr Slipper's political rivals, including Mr Brough.
Mr Brough, who met Mr Ashby three times before the court action was lodged, confirmed on Thursday he was seeking LNP preselection for Mr Slipper's Sunshine Coast seat of Fisher.
Julian Burnside, QC, for the Commonwealth, told Justice Steven Rares that mobile phone records show Mr Ashby and Ms Doane, ''were working together to undermine Mr Slipper when they were still working for him''.
Mr Burnside alleged in court the two advisers ''provided sensitive material'' to Lewis and provided ''politically sensitive information'' to Mr Brough.
Mr Burnside said the lawsuit was an abuse of process because it had been brought ''to damage Mr Slipper and help his political opponents''.
The barrister for Mr Slipper, David Chin, told the court that Mr Ashby's lawsuit was designed to cause ''political and reputational damage'' to the Speaker and for the ''political advantage of his political opponents in the Liberal National Party'', including Mr Brough.
He said there were ''interesting texts'' sent between Mr Ashby, Ms Doane, Mr Lewis and Mr Brough.
He said there had been a ''calculated, orchestrated public relations campaign'' against Mr Slipper and the Speaker had not had an adequate chance to respond to the allegations before they were splashed in the media.
Justice Rares granted Mr Chin leave to issue subpoenas to Mr Lewis, Mr Brough, Ms Doane and Mr Ashby's media spokesman, Anthony McClellan.
A notice to produce will be issued to Mr Ashby.
Mr Burnside said the Commonwealth, as the employer of Mr Ashby and Ms Doane who are both on paid leave, was considering sacking them and asked for the court's permission to use the text messages to make the decision.
Mr Burnside said the two staffers used ''material they should never have leaked to the press and to former members of Parliament''.
Mr Burnside said some text messages referred to paragraphs in the Commonwealth's affidavits. with Phillip Coorey and Louise Hall