Louise Hall, Paul Bibby July 26, 2012
James Ashby ... claims Peter Slipper made unwelcome advances.
WHILE he was allegedly being sexually harassed by Peter Slipper, James Ashby asked the Speaker if he could accompany him on an official trip to Hungary, court documents reveal. And when the request was knocked backed on March 16, with Mr Slipper telling him it would be against parliamentary rules, Mr Ashby responded jovially that it had been a ''wild idea, but sometimes wild ideas become reality''.
The revelations, part of hundreds of documents released by the Federal Court last night, are said to show how Mr Ashby worked with fellow aide Karen Doane, the former Howard minister Malcolm Brough and the News Ltd journalist Steve Lewis to vilify Mr Slipper and destroy his career. Mr Ashby, who worked as Mr Slipper's media adviser, claims the Speaker made unwelcome sexual advances towards him between January and March this year. He is suing Mr Slipper and the Commonwealth for damages.
However the respondents have asked the court to throw out the suit on the grounds that it is an abuse of process. Mr Slipper and the Commonwealth say Mr Ashby and Ms Doane conspired with Mr Brough to make public the serious allegations for the benefit of the Liberal National Party and their own political careers.
Two days before the sexual harassment allegations were splashed in News Ltd publications, Mr Brough emailed Mr Ashby, saying ''there are potential problems I need to discuss with you as soon as possible''.
''I believe they can be resolved with one conversation between the two of us … happy to meet privately if that is best. Cheers, Mal.''
This followed Mr Ashby and Ms Doane emailing Mr Brough extracts of Mr Slipper's diary, which was then sent to Lewis.
Around the same time, Mr Brough helped Ms Doane to apply for a job with mining magnate and aspiring LNP candidate Clive Palmer at his Coolum Golf and Spa resort, forwarding her resume with his recommendation.
In an email to Mr Brough, Ms Doane said: ''I appreciate your consideration of my interest in serving the LNP in government.'' He replied: ''I will do my best.''
The relationship between Mr Brough, who is standing for preselection in Mr Slipper's federal seat of Fisher, and Lewis is detailed, with the journalist requesting specific extracts of Mr Slipper's diary for a series of stories on his alleged travel rorts.
''Mal, here is a start,'' Lewis said in an email to Mr Brough on March 29. ''I would be fascinated to see what his diary said for these dates, they involve some large outlays and the destinations were … er … unusual!!''
On the same day, Mr Ashby sent photocopies of Mr Slipper's diary to Mr Brough.
Three weeks later, when Lewis sent an email that appears to refer to the Speaker's trip to Hungary as part of a parliamentary delegation, Mr Brough says, ''What a creep!''
Meanwhile, Mr Ashby and Ms Doane continued to engage with Mr Slipper in a friendly and jocular way, boasting they had backed Lewis ''into a corner'' in emails to the Speaker.
According to the government, documents released by the Federal Court raise fresh questions about the involvement of senior Liberal Joe Hockey in the sexual harassment case against Mr Slipper.
‘‘Each day we see more and more information that is suggesting there were multiple members of the coalition ... that were in this up to their eyeballs,’’ Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury told Sky News.
The government has been keen to highlight that Mr Hockey, Mr Brough and LNP major financial backer, the mining magnate Clive Palmer, met over the Easter weekend on the Sunshine Coast, although Mr Hockey originally denied Mr Brough attended the meeting.
Mr Brough is seeking Liberal-National Party (LNP) preselection in Mr Slipper’s Queensland electorate of Fisher.
‘‘Some of these revelations ... raise more questions in my mind about that meeting Mr Hockey had when he went up to the Sunshine Coast and met Mr Brough and (LNP figure) Mr (Clive) Palmer,’’ Mr Bradbury said.
Mr Bradbury said Mr Hockey admitted discussing Mr Slipper but denied that he discussed Mr Ashby.
‘‘There are real issues arising over the credibility of what Mr Hockey has had to say on this issue,’’ he said.
But Liberal frontbencher Bruce Billson said he didn’t see anything new or damning in the documents.
‘‘Mal is a mate. I wish him well and whatever happens Mal will still be a mate,’’ he said.
with Jessica Wright