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John Passant

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Putting the rare slipper in: the Liberal Party brand is b…rough; ash by another name

Justice Rares didn’t mince words when he threw out James Ashby’s sexual harassment case against the former speaker of Parliament, Peter Slipper.  

The judge said that ‘Mr Ashby’s predominant purpose for bringing these proceedings was to pursue a political attack against Mr Slipper and not to vindicate any legal claim he may have for which the right to bring proceedings exists.’

Justice Rares described the proceedings as ‘an abuse of process’. He said too that ‘[t]he originating application was used by Mr Ashby for the predominant purpose of causing significant, public, reputational and political damage to Mr Slipper.’

Ashby was not alone. According to Justice Rares he acted with Karen Doane and a former Liberal minister Mal Brough to ‘advance the interests of the LNP and Mr Brough.’ Mal Brough is standing for Mr Slipper’s seat as the endorsed Liberal National Party candidate at the next election.

The text messages from Slipper to Ashby may have constituted sexual harassment but because the application was so tainted it could not be allowed to go ahead. ‘The originating application was used by Mr Ashby for the predominant purpose of causing significant public, reputational and political damage to Mr Slipper,’ the judge said. So it was thrown out.

The judge seemed particularly worked up over the fact that both travel abuse claims and homosexual relations rumours were put in the originating document but never substantiated and in the case of the travel claims, later withdrawn. Justice Rares said they were made to “make a public attack on Mr Slipper so that his conduct would be reported to the police and so as to suggest that he was guilty of misusing Commonwealth funds.’

In relation to the homosexual relationship the judge said this:

‘The 2003 allegations dealt with what was apparently consensual behaviour and included details that were intended to demean Mr Slipper for no legitimate forensic reason. (There was) no sworn or affirmed evidence from anyone who could establish in 2003 Mr Slipper had sexually harassed his staff member. The 2003 allegations were irrelevant and scandalous.’

The judge’s decision was damning. ‘To allow these proceedings to remain in the court would bring the administration of justice into disrepute among right-thinking people and would be manifestly unfair to Mr Slipper,’ he said.

This is a ringing indictment of the Liberal Party and its leadership. Apart from their usual tactic of raising scuttlebutt without evidence (Godwin Grech, the Rudd ute case and the AWU slush fund accusations come to mind), this was the first to get to court. And because it was so driven by political machinations, it was not deserving enough to have the allegations heard.

Political machinations? For example Justice Rares said: “As Mr Ashby and Ms Doane agreed in their texts of 30 March 2012, what they were doing ‘will tip the govt to Mal’s (Brough’s) and the LNP’s advantage’.” That was their motivation, according to the judge, and Mr Brough’s too.

Senator George Brandis is the Opposition’s shadow Attorney-General. He enthusiastically threw his support behind the Ashby claim saying in effect it would not be thrown out, and that the current Attorney-General was seeking a political fix to the Ashby case when the Commonwealth settled. In my view it settled – for an amount of only $50,000 –  to save money and to not waste the court’s and everyone else’s time over what would be a small amount by comparison to the case costs.

Labor will of course make much of this decision. The one day in Court to justify the muckraking strategy of the Opposition and it falls over, spectacularly. So the Government has gone on the attack.

For example Mark Dreyfus QC, a parliamentary secretary, said the case was ‘an attack designed to change the balance in the House of Representatives’ and ‘an attempt to overthrow the government by sinister anti-democratic means’.

Tony Abbott as the poor man’s Malcolm Fraser eh? Too bad for the Opposition they couldn’t find a John Kerr. Of course if Dreyfus is correct that this was an attempt to overthrow the government by anti-democratic means, one wonders when the show trials against Opposition figures begin.

Or maybe Mark Dreyfus QC just means that the methods were anti-democratic, which if Rares is correct (and I note the case is on appeal) they arguably are, but there is nothing illegal in undertaking anti-democratic means to bring down a minority government. The born-to-rules want to get back into power as quickly as possible, and this they thought presented that opportunity. The irony is that the judgement as it stands is a ringing condemnation of the political manoeuvring of a section of the Opposition and may cause some voters to pause before voting for them.

And that raises another question. Who else if anyone on the Opposition side was involved in this abuse of process? The Government’s finger of blame will point to Tony Abbott.

Now, you may remember Abbott promised to set up an inquiry into the beat up known as the AWU slush find if elected. So he is prepared to use slur and innuendo now to win government and as part of that threaten to continue the attack after he wins government. That threat is about current politics and painting the Prime Minister as untrustworthy. It is highly unlikely that Abbott would actually go ahead with such an investigation.

But it does raise an interesting question. If there should be, as the Opposition leader claims, an inquiry into the AWU slush fund of 20 years ago, should there not also be an inquiry into the very very recent Ashby abuse of process affair?

There is something else in all of this too. The strutting roosters of neoliberalism in Australia have done little to distinguish themselves from each other. Where there are differences, they are usually of degree, not substance. The political cock fights are over reputation, not policy, because both Labor and the Liberals basically agree upon the neoliberal policy framework. 

A pox on both their houses.  Maybe it is now time for the working class fox to enter the chook pens of the major parties and put pro-working class policies and politics on the table of state.



Comment from Michael
Time December 13, 2012 at 5:03 am

You use ‘neoliberals’ often in your writings. Can you advise your definition of the word.

Comment from Kay
Time December 13, 2012 at 6:28 am

I don’t think this whole tawdry affair reflects well on anyone, or either Party. Mr Slipper has a history of inflated travel claims in the past and has been forced to repay some money, so tossing in some mention of travel abuse claims was probably par for the course. Mr Brough may have not covered himself in glory in this matter, but, regardless, Peter Slipper will definitely not be missed in Parliament after the next election! Maybe he can pursue his religious career after the election? I believe he is ordained in some way by some splinter religious group.

Comment from billie
Time December 13, 2012 at 6:39 am

As I understand it, Justice Rares said the text messages did not indicate any case of sexual abuse. He said the texts indicated Ashby was well able to deflect unwanted advances from Slipper.

Re: AWU Affair, the first 3 days of the last week of Parliament Julie Bishop used question time to hound the Prime Minister over her boyfriends dealings 20 years ago. It was reported in Crikey that Julie Bishops husband when she was a Howard government minister was Senator Ross Lightfoot who was director of 2 companies that traded while insolvent, the ambassador complained that when Senator Lightfoot was on official government business he was promoting one of his companies. On another occasion he was caught smuggling $25,000 into Iran

Comment from Geoffrey Kelley
Time December 13, 2012 at 7:10 am

Poor Peter! He is obviously an innocent man, a victim of political skulduggery. I hope PM Julia Gillard acts immediately to reinstate him a sspeaker.
Geoffrey Kelley

Comment from John
Time December 13, 2012 at 7:42 am

Me too Geoffrey, me too. Something about hoist by their own petards comes to mind….This misogynist as speaker, a man whose travel claims are still evidently being investigated.

Comment from John
Time December 13, 2012 at 7:43 am

Billie, he also said they might indicate a case of harassment but that Ashby wasn’t offended, or something similar.

Comment from John
Time December 13, 2012 at 8:17 am

Michael I discuss neoliberalism here.

And here is a re-post of an article which covers some of that ground.

Also so partly here, on the fetishism of budget surpluses.

It is a good question and one I think I should address more systematically. I have a whole range of unpublished writing which contains my thoughts on neoliberalism so i should make them public rather than just assume a common understanding. I was looking for an article I thought I had written specifically on this question on this blog but cannot find it. So I may take up your suggestion and explain in a bit of detail the free market concept of neoliberalism, and its concomitant use of the state to suppress or hamstring unions etc.

Comment from Kay
Time December 13, 2012 at 8:20 am


Now that you mention being ‘offended’, did you see that the Labor government is planning an overhaul of discrimination law that will impose unprecedented restrictions on free speech, including making it unlawful to merely offend people, leaving the nation isolated from international norms (reported from an oration to the Australian Human Rights Commission by ABC Chairman and former top jurist, Jim Spigelman).

If enacted, discrimination in all areas would be affected by the provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act. Mr Spigelman noted that he was “not aware of any international human rights instrument or national anti-discrimination statute in another liberal democracy that extends to conduct which is merely offensive.” The legislation would allow someone to merely state that he/she is ‘offended’ for a crime to be committed. It would also make blasphemy in the workplace unlawful – putting us in line with many Muslim countries. Political opinion, if deemed to offend someone, could also be caught by this legislation. Nicola Roxon’s assurances that the government will attempt to strike a balance between rights and freedoms give me, for one, no confidence at all! I am always fearful of ANY attempt to stifle freedom of speech by ANY government! This to me seems a step too far!

Comment from John
Time December 13, 2012 at 8:46 am

There’s a wonderful statement from Stephen Fry doing the facebook rounds where he ends up saying ‘I am offended by that. Well, so f*****g what?’ But I think we need to be careful because offending people can be incitement to violence. It can also be born of systemic oppression so offending Aboriginal people or gays and lesbians or blacks is very different to offending Clive Palmer. One reinforces oppression. The answer however isn’t in mickey muse changes that Labor is proposing; it is addressing that oppression at its core, making society it self less offensive, which in the case of indigenous Australians would in part be by recognising sovereignty, a treaty etc. For gays and lesbians a small step would be marriage equality.

Comment from billie
Time December 13, 2012 at 9:32 am

As I understand the Cabcharge claims were withdrawn by Ashby so mentioning them as being outstanding adds to the smear.

There is a difference between not liking someone’s endulged lifestyle and calling them a crook

Comment from Kay
Time December 13, 2012 at 10:35 am

I do love Stephen Fry’s comment!

I concede that some offensive comment is made to reinforce systemic oppression. And we need to be careful to maintain that balance between the rights of people, especially minorities, and freedom of speech generally. But I think it dangerous to move too far outside international law which restricts free speech on racial grounds only where it advocates racial hatred, vilification or intimidation and even then only if it incites discrimination or violence.

BTW I too can’t understand the opposition to marriage equality. I find such opposition quite repulsive. I cannot for the life of me see that allowing ‘equal love’ in any way impacts upon the marriage rights of heterosexuals! I always suspect homophobia (latent homosexuality?) or some religious fundamentalism.

Comment from Denis L White
Time December 13, 2012 at 8:51 pm

John and commenters is something missing from the comments? Ahhh I know, its the nit-pickers.

Comment from John
Time December 13, 2012 at 11:03 pm

Yes Den71. Oh well.