The question is, why did Palmer not pursue his original threat of litigation against Brough after Mal called him a liar? Clive talks a good game in Parliament, but can he prove it? Is his wife still in the frame?
PART 6: CHAPTER 11
On 15 August 2013, Slipper announced he was going to stand as an independent for the seat of Fisher at the election due in September.
He was so broke he got out a whole lot of old election posters, dated from when he had more hair and fewer wrinkles, cut the Liberal logo from the top and tried to pass them off as a win for the environment.
On 22 August 2013, Clive Palmer announced to the media that when he met Brough the previous Easter, Mal said "we need to destroy Peter Slipper"; then asked him for money.
Mal Brough said it was important the Liberal Party should win the seat of Fisher. He said to me, ‘we need to destroy Peter Slipper’.
He said he had all the evidence that would put Slipper away for a long time. He then outlined to me a case he had that would destroy his integrity and what the community thought about Mr Slipper.
Palmer told the media Brough asked him to fund Ashby’s legal bills and to employ a woman who would play a key role in Slipper’s downfall. Brough had not detailed what that role would be.
An ABC story that day had Palmer saying:
' I just want to make it absolutely clear, I think I've got a moral duty and responsibility to Mr Hockey and his family and indeed the Liberal party to make it absolutely clear that Mr Hockey played no role in these discussions. He walked past at the end of a discussion with Mal Brough and merely sat down and had a coffee.'
If the Coolum meeting between Clive and Brough, the one when Joe Hockey dropped in for coffee, was at Easter, it must have been after Good Friday, because on Good Friday Brough had been with Ashby and Russell QC in Mooloolaba.
Now he was hanging out at the Coolum Resort having coffee with the Shadow Treasurer, but it seems he managed to keep a lid on things because Hockey had alleged to Swan – and any other media within earshot – "I did not know of Mr Ashby".
Brough immediately called a media conference, telling the assembled throng:
I just want to say straight out that I deny the comments that have been made today by Mr Palmer.
This is an event that occurred 17 months ago and now two weeks from polling day Mr Palmer comes forward.
There has been inconsistency on this issue from day one from Mr Palmer.
Brough did not deny the meeting took place, nor did he say what was discussed if not Ashby.
Palmer did not back off.
On Tuesday 27 August, he made an appearance on Lateline for an interview with Emma Alberici.
After canvassing a few topics:
EA: Now I'd also like to ask you about the James Ashby matter. Justice Rares dismissed the case against Peter Slipper as an abuse of process.
CP: That's quite true.
EA: He said it was politically motivated.
CP: It was.
EA: Can you provide any details of your discussion with Mal Brough who was a minister in the Howard Government and who is now challenging for the seat against Peter Slipper?
CP: Mal Brough approached me and asked to have a meeting and we met at Coolum resort. I had a drink with him and he said to me that he had some damning evidence against Peter Slipper that he wanted to share with me and I said what was that and why do you want to share it with me? He outlined the case he thought was against Peter Slipper in relation to one of his employees and I said what's that got to do with you? You're not the employee? He said, "We want you to give us the money and fund it." Because at that stage I think Peter Slipper was relevant in the balance of power in this country and I said well I'm not prepared to fund anyone's campaign. And he said, "Can I explain it more to you?" And he explained it to me and I took the judgment that it was basically made up, it was done for political purposes and it was hearsay and I wanted nothing to do with it. He then asked me if I'd give a job to a woman that was key in the case that he was working on and he's admitted to that and I said I wouldn't give her a job. And as we were concluding the conversation Joe Hockey went past because he was staying at the resort with his family. He sat down and we had a cup of coffee. At no time did Joe Hockey even discuss this issue and he was ...
EA: Did you discuss it with him? Did you mention it to him?
CP: To Joe Hockey? I don't recall. I don't think I did but certainly not this issue. He just sat down and had a cup of coffee and then he went. On the last day of Parliament just recently Peter Slipper attacked Joe Hockey for being part of a conspiracy. And that just wasn't true. The only discussion I had was with Mal Brough. The only request I had was with Mal Brough and when I indicated I didn't want to fund the thing he suggested I visit Brisbane and meet with a QC which I never did.
EA: How much money was he looking for?
CP: I don't know. He was looking to fund the case and I said I wasn't prepared to do it. It wasn't a question of the amount of money; it was the question of propriety of it. I you don't want to fund cases against people you have no personal interest in for the sake of it, it's not a good thing to do. I thought it was highly politically motivated. I thought it was the wrong thing to do and when the judgment came through in the Federal Court it found that was the case without any reference to anything I could have said and I thought I'll leave it at that.
EA: Why did you initially tell reporters in Brisbane in December last year that you hadn't been approached by Mal Brough?
CP: No, I didn't say that. If you look at my Twitter account on 26 July 2012 I set out exactly what my position was in relation to Peter Slipper and all that. That's all I said. I never made any comment, but I felt I had to when Peter Slipper on the last day of Parliament attacked Joe Hockey to say that he was involved in a conspiracy against him. Now I wasn't aware of that attack until I was approached about two weeks ago by the media and then I referred back to hansard and had a look at it and then I thought I better clear the air because Joe Hockey shouldn't go to the election with that cloud hanging over him because he certainly had no role in the operation.
EA: Mal Brough called you a liar; do you intend to pursue that matter?
CP: Of course I will, yeah.
EA: In what way?
CP: I'll sue him.
EA: And when do you intend to do that?
CP: As soon as my lawyers can get the writ onto him because he's a liar, there's no doubt about that. He's been found by the Federal Court to have been acting for political purposes independently of me. He's just doing this as another desperate attempt to get into parliament and really he will have to account for himself and in court I'll produce the evidence that I've got that indicates what I'm saying is true.
On Wednesday 28 August Clive announced he intended to serve a writ of defamation on Brough.
He told the media:
The federal court has already looked at these issues. The court has already determined that Mr Brough has been less than frank with the truth. Mr Brough has already said that he asked me to employ a person. Mr Brough took out advertisements accusing me of being dishonest and the like. I’ve got the evidence which I’ll produce in court which shows you who is telling the truth.
I agree with the judge. I just really confirmed what the judge had already found but Mr Brough has been lying; that Mr Brough had been trying to cause damage to another Australian and trying to solicit funds from me to do that.
Would I swear on a Bible that I'm telling the truth? Absolutely; there is no question about that. I will be looking forward to the opportunity in court to take that (oath) and to bring forward in court the evidence I'd produce that shows Mal Brough is a liar. He's opened his mouth and now he's made his own bed. Let him lie in it.
One of many possible speculations, but one that fits, sees Brough being despatched to broach the subject of funding with Clive. By the time Hockey turned up, Brough is either smiling or he isn’t — in this case isn’t, so Joe discusses croissants amiably with Clive. Had Mal been smiling, things might have been different.
It is possible Clive recorded his meetings with Mal and Joe, but recordings made without the knowledge of all parties are not admissible as evidence.
Palmer did not pursue his grievance through the courts.
He blamed his wife, telling the media:
'My wife said it was in the best interest of the electorate that Mal and I work together to bring about some good things for the Sunshine Coast.'
The book ASHBYGATE – published by Independent Australia, 2015 – will be officially launched at 10.30 am, 10 December 2015 at the Shearwater Resort, 79 Edmund Street, Caloundra. All are welcome. Refreshments will be served.
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