On Monday 1 February, The Australian kicked the Ashbygate publicity can a couple of furlongs down the track, when it announced Pyne and Roy were
‘...assisting police with their enquiries.'
The AFP had responded to a series of questions put to it by the repressed red top.
Here is the AFP’s reply in full:
The AFP can confirm it is investigating an allegation of an unauthorised disclosure of Mr Slipper's Commonwealth diary.
- Mr Brough, Mr Pyne and Mr Roy are assisting police with inquiries.
- The AFP has spoken to Mr Ashby and at this time understand he is seeking legal advice.
- The AFP takes investigations of this nature extremely seriously. It is conducting a thorough investigation and will continue to do so until its completion.
As this investigation remains ongoing, it is not appropriate to comment further.
I am confused.
Why would Murdoch’s leading loss making masthead want to put the boot into Pyne and Roy? It didn’t have to.
Back in 2012 when News had been a willing and active participant in the plot to bring down the Speaker and destroy Labor as a viable government, it ran full bore with lurid and totally unsubstantiated allegations, taking the trouble to add infantile graphics for extra spice.
News’ trusted employee, Steve 'Scoop' Lewis, held Ashby’s hand through his traumatic ordeal, as shown by the following excerpt from my new book Ashbygate: The Plot to Destroy Australia's Speaker:
According to the Harmers annotation,? Mr Ashby recollects he had a drink with Steve Lewis on 11 April …
… Only a few minutes later, James told Martin about his night with Steve,
I caught up with him in the end tonight. The food was exquisite and I was proud to say I know the guy that owns the place. He’s a really nice guy with a sensational business. He certainly deserves 10 stars out of 5. He was really delightful and went out of his way to ensure we had the best of everything and were well looked after. I loved it! In fact I believe we might go back their tomorrow night to try more of the menu. Take care Martin. I had an eventful day today. This moment in my life I’ll remember for ever. Night...”
So why News’ sudden interest in the truth?
Donning my MORNJ (Middle of Road Nut Job) hat, I am going to say to destabilise Turnbull and clear the path of obstacles to a renewed Abbott ascendancy. It is the only thing that makes sense.
The journo behind the "assisting police with enquiries" story was none other than that old News stalwart Michael McKenna — the same Michael McKenna who wrote the puff piece in The Oz on 5 May 2012 which tried to explain away revelations Brough and Ashby had been meeting before the axe dropped on Slipper.
All perfectly innocent if you believed McKenna’s story, which was, as it turns out, a total crock of shit.
Yet now this same guy is chasing down dirt on Pyne and Roy. There was no need to print this story — it is not even a story. If you read the deadpan AFP response, all it said was they have spoken with the pair. Of course they have. Really?
After the hoo ha with the warrants, had they not spoken with Roy and Pyne then that would be a story – AFP derelict in duties and so on – but McKenna found an obvious beat up and kicked it through the Twitter goalposts.
Here is a good question: Why did McKenna not ask the AFP if it had interviewed Scoop?
Here is another: Has Turnbull any idea what he is up against?
The hard Tory right have little to fear from any Ashbygate bombshells the AFP might drop, at least in the short term. It is the Turnbull backers – Brough, Pyne and Roy – who will be at ground zero if the shit hits the fan.
The Tory right were long-term residents in Ashbygate, of course, all the way up to their serpentine necks, but unless Ashby cracks and spills the beans it will take a Royal Commission to prise their cold hands from the truth. So they are probably safe, providing they hang on to power.
If all goes well, this will be a controlled detonation, which will see Brough, Pyne and Roy fall first, then Turnbull as the targeted collateral. Doesn’t have to be formal AFP charges, a prolonged smear campaign will do.
But the hard right and its media supporters are playing with fire and that fire is called James Ashby, a man with more beans to spill than a Columbian cargo liner.
Will James threaten to expose all he knows and maybe save Turnbull’s bacon? Or will he stay schtum, warming his hands over the bonfire of his former allies’ dead careers?
Don’t you just love a cliff-hanger?
Ross Jones is the author of 'Ashbygate: The Plot to Destroy Australia's Speaker'. You can follow him on Twitter @RPZJones. Find out how and where you can buy the Ashbygate paperback or eBook by clicking HERE.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License