Whether Parliamentary Speaker Peter Slipper sexually harassed James Ashby is something for the courts to decide, but the case against him appears weak and there is a trove of evidence that suggests a conspiracy. Managing editor David Donovan reports.
THE CASE of James Ashby against Peter Slipper always seemed rather fortuitous for the Opposition, coming just five months after Slipper added an extra vote for the Government by becoming Speaker — after having previously been endorsed and re-endorsed by the Coalition for 18 years.
As they say, if something walks, talks and looks like a duck — you can guess what it is.
And since Ashby first came forward with claims of sexual harassment and taxi voucher fraud – the latter of which he later dropped – the case looked, to many, like a duck. And so most people were probably rather unsurprised when the Commonwealth launched an action in the Federal Court to strike out the case — alleging it was a plot by the LNP and the Liberal Party to bring down the Federal Government.
The courts will decide about the relative merits of these actions — whether it really is a duck, if you like. However, IA has been quietly investigating the Peter Slipper - James Ashby case since it appeared in the press, and we feel confident in saying the case against Peter Slipper certainly waddles and quacks. We will be going into significant depth over coming weeks into the allegations against both parties, as well as the people who may be involved in the alleged Ashbygate conspiracy.
In this first part, we take a look at James Ashby, and consider the serious allegations he has made against Australia’s parliamentary speaker Peter Slipper.
How Ashby met Slipper
Speaker Peter Slipper, 62, met James Ashby, 33, in Beerwah, a sleepy rural village in the lushly picturesque Sunshine Coast hinterland of Queensland, situated about an hour’s drive north of Brisbane. Behind and around the town loom the sharp ridges of the Glasshouse Mountains and ranges of verdant rainforest. Just outside it is the famous Australia Zoo — a tourist mecca made famous by the ill-fated local legend Steve Irwin — the ‘Crocodile Hunter’.
A half hour drive east will find you upon the wide golden beaches of Maroochydoore and Sunshine Coast proper. Peter Slipper’s electorate office is just a few minutes north of there, in a little hamlet called Buddina. The roadsides around the tranquil country town of Beerwah are colourfully dotted with macadamia and avocado plantations, along with pineapple and strawberry farms.
Indeed, it was on a strawberry farm that Peter Slipper first met James Ashby, just a little over 12 months ago.
Journalist Jared Owens described this initial meeting in The Australian on 25 April 2012:
It happened in July last year when Mr Slipper – then deputy speaker and a member of the Liberal National Party – invited frontbencher Bronwyn Bishop to breakfast with constituents at the Sunshine Coast's Gowinta Farms, where Mr Ashby worked in marketing.
The ice was broken by Rhys Reynolds, a young staffer and family friend of Mr Slipper, who … told The Australian the pair struck up an effortless rapport.
Rhys Reynolds, 20, was still active in the LNP after Slipper “ratted” on the LNP and became the Speaker.
The Gowinta strawberry farm is just minutes away from the strawberry farm of other prominent Beerwah local residents the Roy Family — which encompasses 22 year-old Wyatt Roy, the MP for Longman. Longman is also the former seat of Howard Government front bencher – and Peter Slipper arch nemesis – Mal Brough.
According to Owens, Ashby was “a gay LNP member, [who] quickly became a regular guest at local party functions and gatherings” at Peter Slipper’s home. Curiously, Ashby was hired by Slipper at almost exactly the same time the MP became Speaker and resigned from the LNP — on 24 November 2011.
James Ashby had only worked for Peter Slipper for five months before he came forward with his allegations of workplace sexual harassment and Cabcharge fraud, on 20 April 2012 (he later dropped the cab voucher allegations). The substance of Ashby’s complaint may be found in the publicly available court documents, but are adequately summarised, for now, by an article published in the Brisbane Times on 23 April 2012:
Extracts from court documents, obtained by News Limited, allege that in January, Mr Ashby drove to Mr Slipper's home to take him to meet some of his constituents. They stopped at a coffee shop where Mr Slipper allegedly asked him: ''Have you ever c--- in a guy's a--- before.''
Mr Ashby replied: ''That's not the kind of question you ask people, Peter.''
In another incident, Mr Slipper questioned why Mr Ashby did not shower with the door open.
The documents also claim that Mr Slipper allegedly sent text messages with ''x'' and ''xxx'' and in other texts Mr Slipper says ''U getting roks off. Pity''.
It is also alleged that on March 20, Mr Ashby was in his office and Mr Slipper ''walked into the office and said 'Can I kiss you both'''. There was no other person in the office, the documents said.
How credible is James Ashby?
Sexual harassment in the workplace is undoubtedly a very grave offence, but so is bearing false witness — and there are reasons to suspect that Ashby may, at the very least, have had ulterior motives in launching his action against Peter Slipper.
The first reason Ashby’s allegations give most people pause for thought, is that he is a rather burly 33-year-old male who, many would imagine, would have little difficulty in rebuffing the untoward advances of almost any male in no uncertain terms. Indeed, Ashby has a history of aggression and confrontation that make any suggestion of him being a vulnerable target for harassment and bullying difficult to conceive.
An insight was provided on 17 April 2012 (just days before Ashby made his allegations) in the local Sunshine Coast Daily newspaper, which reported Ashby being investigated by the Police after a confrontation with a local television reporter:
PETER Slipper staffer James Ashby has refused to be interviewed by police over an incident in which he threw a Sunshine Coast Daily reporter's telephone during a press conference.
Award-winning political reporter Owen Jacques had asked Mr Slipper a question about his expenses during the March 9 interview when Mr Ashby decided to intervene.
Mr Ashby knocked Mr Jacques' mobile phone out of his hand and then further taunted him by saying "go and get it".
The Daily lodged a formal complaint with police and Mr Slipper promised to investigate.
In the end, the Police declined to lay charges, saying the incident was not sufficiently serious to warrant expending the court’s time.
Ashby, however, was not so fortunate in 2002 when, as a DJ at Newcastle radio station NX-FM, he ended up with a criminal record over threats he made to a rival DJ.
The incident was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on 23 April 2012:
Mr Ashby was known as Jimmy on NXFM when he rang rival Jim Morrison while Morrison was on air, Newcastle Local Court previously heard.
''Yeah, go for it you f---ing psychopath,'' Mr Ashby said.
''Next time I see you riding on your f---ing bike I'll hit you, you idiot, all over the sloppy road, you dumb prick. F--- it, if I was your mother I would have drowned you at birth.''
He pleaded guilty to using a carriage service in an offensive manner. In a statement issued this weekend, Mr Ashby said the 2002 incident was a ''silly'' joke.
Ashby was fined $2000 and given a three-year good behaviour bond.
Given these facts, you might assume that Ashby would not be the sort of person to feel unduly oppressed by another man simply asking him a sexually suggestive question, or sending him a dubious text message. Indeed, as IA columnist Bob Ellis put it:
“He … is the first thirty-four year old homosexual male to file a civil suit for sexual harassment in world history, I would think. I may be wrong about this. But he is a trail-blazer.”
Ashby’s claims of sexual harassment stray further into the realms of implausibility after ABC 7.30’s 30 July 2012 report by Stephen Long on Ashby himself being an alleged sexual predator — and on much more vulnerable individuals than himself:
STEPHEN LONG: But now there is a new twist in this battle of claim and counter-claim. Tonight, 7.30 can reveal that James Ashby's own personal history is under investigation. It goes back to his time in Townsville. The North Queensland city became James Ashby's home in 2003. He moved there from Newcastle where he'd resigned from his job as a radio DJ in controversial circumstances, convicted and fined for making threatening and abusive phone calls to a rival radio host.
In Townsville, then in his mid-20s, James Ashby met a 15-year-old boy. Nine years on, spurred by the publicity about Ashby's sexual harassment case, that young man contacted Peter Slipper. His email to the Speaker has been obtained by 7.30.
EMAIL (male voiceover): "In 2003 I met James Ashby through a mutual friend. He was working for a radio station and in the process of moving to Townsville. We began a sexual relationship which lasted for a few weeks before James broke it off as he had started a relationship with another person which lasted two or three years. I was 15 at the time, however what we did under Queensland law cannot be consented to under the age of 18. The guy James broke it off for was also 15 at the time they began their relationship."
According to these claims, it seems James Ashby broke off a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old boy — for a sexual relationship with another 15 year-old boy.
Now, these claims must be tested in a court of law — but based on our information, they must be extremely credible. We can say this because, on the 3rd of August 2012, this publication received a telephone call from a senior ABC TV producer wanting to discuss our investigations into Jacksonville and Ashbygate. During the discussion, we asked the producer why such shows as 7.30 and Lateline had not sufficiently publicised the clear evidence of corruption demonstrated through our (then) 18 (now 20) investigative Jacksonville stories into the HSU saga, all of which were backed up by primary source documentary evidence, and none of which have been legally contested.
The response from this ABC producer was that 7.30 and Lateline had been “eager” to do the stories, but needed to do their “due diligence”. After pressing, we were told that this meant, effectively, that they had been unable to gain sign-off from the ABC “legal department”. Of course, when asked what the actual legal impediment was to publicising primary source material, noting that I have legal training, and given we had published 18 stories without any legal action, the ABC producer seemed somewhat stumped.
However, the point is, these emailed allegations by a callow youth, which were passed on to the authorities and the ABC by Peter Slipper, must – by definition – be far more credible than IA’s several hundred pages of original hard copy primary source documentation about corruption by HSU and FWA officials ― since the emails were aired in full on 7.30, yet the Jacksonville material has never been seen on the programme even once.
People may wish to pause and have a think about that.
The only conclusion we can reach, therefore ― without reaching the almost unimaginable conclusion that Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC, is a highly compromised organisation that, for opaque reasons, reports allegations against certain people, but not others – is that the allegations against Ashby must be very highly verifiable. That the Facebook messages passed on to Peter Slipper from Ashby’s accuser are far more conclusive then the original hard copy bank statements, credit card statements, cheque butts, cheque requisitions, letters, emails and internet records Peter Wicks and IA received in our investigations into the Jacksonville case (a case which is still ongoing, by the way).
One can only presume that the ABC “Legal Department” was very convinced by Ashby’s young accuser. A former Labor Party candidate, along with a former vice chair of the Australian Republican Movement, are obviously far less believable.
So, if Ashby’s accuser is so much more credible than Peter and myself, and Ashby’s accuser’s claims so much more legally defensible than the truckloads of primary documentary evidence we have provided ― then can Ashby credibly attempt to adopt the role of a sexual victim?
On the face of it, the assertion seems absurd ― but only the courts will tell for sure.
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