In the first part of a three part series, Vince O'Grady shows in forensic detail just how many times Mal Brough has changed his story, or outright lied, about his conspiracy with James Ashby to bring down Peter Slipper.
IN A recent investigation, I asked myself whether Malcolm Brough had answered all the questions he should about his involvement with James Ashby in the Ashby-Slipper conspiracy by the Liberal Party matter — so that the Fisher electorate could make an informed choice in the forthcoming election.
So, I set out to inform myself about the number of times Brough had been asked questions by the Press about the Ashby matter and his involvement in it.
I then trawled back through the 1,704 pages of sworn evidence and made a time line of the actual sequence of events that were in evidence in the Federal Court.
My third task was to make a comparison with what Brough had said and what he had actually said, or done.
As an aside to this investigative technique, I am a keen family historian and am always amazed at how much you can miss in a document because you either do not have enough information, or another piece of information learned at a later date can put a new light on the original document.
Such a light has appeared to me many times now as I try to understand the sequence of events and why they happened.
David Donovan, my editor, is also a good foil, suggesting lines of enquiry and relationships. Countless hours have been spent teasing out the finer details of who knows who and why they may have done something.
That was entirely the case here. I must also mention three or four contacts on the Sunshine Coast who either knew, or know, of the main players in the Ashby-Slipper saga.
So, what did I find out?
First of all. I found that Brough had lied to the Press about what he knew.
In fact, he said to one reporter:
Suggesting questions about Ashby were "up a dry gully".
Read my detailed and painstaking research, and I’m sure you’ll find that nothing could be further from the truth.
Malcolm Brough has told an astonishing number of lies. The only more astonishing thing is that our mainstream media have failed to ever hold him to account — to pick him up on his astonishing history of mendacity.
Read my research and note how media savvy Mal Brough is, skirting questions, answering questions that weren’t asked, deflecting questions, by saying the matter was subject to appeal, saying that he could have deleted the five text messages if he had known how (though they were on Ashby’s phone) and, finally, that that there was nothing further to add.
There is much Malcolm Brough could add, but even though we have repeatedly asked him to answer a series of reasonable questions, he has never responded once.
Tony Abbott said about Brough:
“Look I will leave claims about what Mr Brough did or didn’t do to be answered by, by, by, Mal, erm, he’s been very up front about this. He’s done lots of interviews about it and, erm, if you’ve got a question for him, I think he would be only too happy to take it from you.”
The simple answer to this is that Mal Brough hasn’t answered any of the questions he should have because ‒ despite Brough assiduously attempting to avoid scrutiny ‒ the other journalists haven’t researched enough to ask the right questions.
My investigation actually ended up as a 34 A4 page document; one which is difficult to portray in a story — especially as each of the three parts need the other two parts to make sense. Nevertheless, we will publish the three parts over the next three days and, by the end of it, the story will, we hope, make sense to the dedicated reader.
The first part is the number of times that Brough has answered questions, the second part is the actual timeline of events between Ashby, Doane, Brough — and incorporates the mysterious Jackie and Murray. The third part of the document evaluates the first two parts against each other and then asks some more questions of Brough. It also answers the question as to whether Brough has been up front with the media in answering other questions.
To give you a sense of my results, I would say that, in my opinion, Brough has been evasive and has tried to shut down the questioning.
But I will let you, the reader, make up your own mind.
At his National Press Club address on 31 Jan 2013, The Hon Tony Abbott, MP said the following words:
''This election will be about trust,'' he said.
''Who do you trust to reduce cost of living pressures? Who do you trust to boost small business and to boost job security? And who do you trust to secure our borders? That's what this election will be all about.''
After his address he took questions from the press gallery.
One of them was about the Liberal National Party candidate for Fisher, Malcolm Brough and his involvement with the Ashby /Slipper sexual harassment case.
Lenore Taylor chief political correspondent from the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH)asked (48m.48s into the ABC broadcast)”
“…whether it was proper or correct or acceptable behaviour for Mr Brough to ask Mr Slipper’s Staff to take from his private Diary?”
Tony Abbott answered.
“Look I will leave claims about what Mr Brough did or didn’t do to be answered by, by, by… Mal, …erm… he’s been very up front about this. He’s done lots of interviews about it and… erm… if you’ve got a question for him, I think he would be only too happy to take it from you.”
In our last article about Mal Brough and the questions he hasn’t answered, we quoted many journalists on Twitter saying they had tried to contact Mal Brough but had received no responses.
So the editor asked me to actually look at how many times Mal Brough had taken questions on the Ashby case.
Our methodology was to search for articles which directly quoted Mal Brough, read the comments, add up the number of press interviews and then to look at the actual facts given by him and others under subpoena.
Then to do a timeline for readers against what he said.
Such a verifiable forensic process would show whether Mal Brough had actually made himself available on a number of occasions and was pleased to answer those questions put and then check the answers against evidence (documents) produced under oath (subpoena).
The allegations of sexual harassment were lodged on Friday 20 April, 2012.
Part One: The Media Interviews Mal Brough agreed to after the case was filed.
29 April 2012, at a press huddle on the Sunshine Coast, Mal Brough said that suggestions that he knew about the sexual harassment case were “nonsense”
[Direct quotes in article from Jess Wright (SMH) — embedded video in story.]
“…dismissed any suggestions he knew of James Ashby’s affidavit before it was lodged as nonsense”
Samantha Maiden in News Ltd’s Daily Telegraph:
"Nonsense," Brough said, suggesting such questions were "up a dry gully".
4 May article by Jessica Wright:
On 4th May 2012, Brough admitted he had met Ashby, but said:
“I had no knowledge of the court proceedings. I have been absolutely consistent with that”
4 May interview byMichael McKenna, published on 5 May 2012, SMH:
[Excerpts from that interview and article.]
Mr Brough said Mr Ashby had sought him out for help on the advice of local party official Valerie Bradford. Ms Bradford, a grandmother and 38-year member of the Nationals and now the LNP, had recruited Mr Ashby to join the party early last year after meeting him when he was working at a local strawberry farm as a marketing manager.
Despite initially being "suspicious", Mr Brough met the parliamentary adviser on three occasions in March and April - each time advising him he "needed to sit down with a lawyer".
"I said to him that my strong view was that you need to make sure you are on extremely strong ground because the media, the government and Mr Slipper will tear you apart," Mr Brough said he told Mr Ashby during the second meeting in late March.
"I said that you had better know that what you are saying is true and beyond any doubt.
"And, if it is, my strong advice to you is to go to the AFP with your claims of criminality and you had better get yourself legal advice regarding the civil matter."
"I did not speak to Pyne, or Pyne's office, or to Abbott or anybody like that," he said.
Attributed to Val Bradford [emphasis IA]:
"In early March, James came back to town and he wanted to talk to someone who knew about the parliamentary processes and what could be done. He didn't want to talk to an MP, and we talked, and I could only think of Mal Brough."
On the eve of Queensland's March 24 election, Mr Brough said he had received a telephone call from Mr Ashby, asking to meet him. Mr Brough said he was suspicious of Mr Ashby, because he was a staffer of his political rival and a party member who had unsuccessfully run for election as an LNP official last year against Mr Brough's own team, which eventually took over the branch.
The former MP, who lost the neighbouring seat of Longman in the 2007 federal election, said he had relented and agreed to meet Mr Ashby on March 23.
The meeting with Mr Brough and his wife, Sue, acting as a "witness", went for several hours and initially focused on whether Mr Ashby was behind a social media campaign that had been attacking Mr Brough over his planned pre-selection bid, scheduled for later this year. "We went over that (the attacks) and around that for a very long time and the whole time there is this background, 'There are things in Slipper's office that aren't right'," Mr Brough alleged.
The following week, Mr Brough said he had had another meeting with Mr Ashby, in which he said he advised him to seek his own legal counsel and outlined the advice he said he had received concerning the alleged sexual harassment:
"I had taken some soundings as to all this - I spoke to someone in the legal fraternity - and I had learnt his (sexual) allegations were ... a civil action if he chose to take it and the other matter was a criminal matter, if he chose to take it," he said.
Mr Brough said Mr Ashby then showed him a text message that went into more detail about his allegations against Mr Slipper.
He said a lawyer friend was at the next meeting with Mr Ashby early last month and began to go through the material with the adviser, who then revealed he had engaged his own lawyers in Brisbane and was meeting them on April 10.
"He rang me from Brisbane where he had some long conversations with lawyers, that was on the Tuesday after Easter (April 10), and that he was going to Sydney to have further discussions with lawyers," Mr Brough said.
He said he had "no regrets" about his involvement with Mr Ashby and dismissed the conspiracy theories that the adviser was placed in Mr Slipper's office to entrap him and bring down the government, which had installed Mr Slipper to gain an extra vote on the floor of parliament.
"All these people are crawling over it and I won't lie," Mr Brough said. "I just feel there is this storm of innuendo, that the LNP was behind it, that he (Mr Ashby) was a 'honey-pot' and it is all drivel."
Mr Brough said he believed he had a "moral obligation" to listen to Mr Ashby and would offer the same advice to anybody making similar claims.
Mr Brough said he believed Mr Ashby had "clearly spoken to other people" when he was considering taking action.
5 May 2012, ABC AM, interviewed Brough and posted a transcript:
Brough was asked the following by Mike Edwards.
[Excerpts from that Interview.]
About the 1st meeting with Ashby:
MAL BROUGH: He rang me one, in fact it was the day before the state election, to say could we meet? And I didn't agree to meet; I said I'd ring him back. And I consulted with my wife and we agreed that we would find out what he wanted but we would do it together so that we'd have a witness. And that's how concerned we were about meeting with anyone connected with Mr Slipper's office.
MAL BROUGH: Well, to be fair it was a lot of shadow boxing for a long time where he didn't come out straight away and blurt out the allegations that are now in the press. We danced around the mulberry bush as he, sort of, alluded to the issues but I was more interested in what his motive was for coming to see me. And he ultimately said well he's been confiding in this woman Val Bradford who I knew that he was close to. And that it was at her suggestion that he come and speak to me about some of the things that were concerning him because he didn't know where to turn.
What he advised Ashby:
MAL BROUGH: Ultimately, the advice I gave him was very clear and very simple. Is that, number one, you're making incredibly serious allegations here and you will have the weight of Government, you will have the weight of Mr Slipper and the media down on your head. If you elect to take this forward, in whatever the appropriate forum is, you can expect to be torn apart. So think very carefully about any steps you take.
Number two, you need legal advice. You need very strong legal advice, I'm not a lawyer, I can't provide that to you. He sought that on his own. I did not provide him with the Harmers Lawyers, I did not make him the connection to the Harmers Lawyers, I wasn't even aware of them.
About Ashby’s Motives:
MAL BROUGH: I was deeply skeptical about his motives. But it became clear the more that he spoke to us that I was totally convinced of what he had to say and so was my wife. And I think that's probably more important that my wife was because she's the one who generally reads people a heck of a lot better than I do; and for her to think that he was genuine and that his pain was genuine, then that was enough for me to say, well, do what you would do regardless of who he is.
He also said he had no regrets in meeting with Ashby.
Apparently, Tony Abbott trusts any candidate to tell the absolute truth about any incidents they have been involved in.
Readers will have to make up their own minds about the truthfulness of Mal Brough.
6 May 2012, Mischa Schubert, SMH:
FORMER Howard government minister Mal Brough has denied changing his story about what he knew of legal action alleging sexual harassment of a staffer by Speaker Peter Slipper.
''I wasn't prepared to lie, but I didn't want to canvass the issue,'' Mr Brough told The Sunday Age last night. ''I have nothing to hide and I have nothing to be ashamed of.''
Mr Brough was quoted in The Sunday Mail last weekend dismissing as ''nonsense'' any suggestion he knew of James Ashby's court documents before they were lodged.
About what Tony Abbott had to say about the case:
Tony … learnt about the court proceedings against Mr Slipper when he read The Daily Telegraph on Saturday 21 April,'' his spokesman said. Pressed on whether he knew something was brewing, even if he did not know it would result in court proceedings, there was no response.
18 June 2012, The Age, Michelle Grattan [IA emphasis]:
FORMER Howard government minister Mal Brough has lashed out at Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and Leader of the House Anthony Albanese for ''extraordinary and outrageous'' attacks as the government claims that he and other Coalition figures were implicated in trying to discredit Speaker Peter Slipper.
Mr Brough, who is seeking Liberal National Party preselection for Mr Slipper's seat, also said he had told his lawyers to make sure material relating to him was handed over to expedite the Federal Court case.
30 July 2012, ABC Radio National Breakfast, Fran Kelly ABC [IA emphasis]:
[Transcript of Interview by IA.]
Asked about receiving copies of Slippers Diary
“Well, these is reports almost daily now of, eh, new documents being into the court, into the public arena in that sense, you have said repeatedly that you were just trying to help somebody in needs, James Ashby came to you for some advice. But it’s also been tendered in the court that ‒ or alleged in the court that ‒ you received, you were sent, photocopied pages of Peter Slipper’s Diary which was ‒ it was alleged ‒ were taken without his permission. Doesn’t this go beyond just helping, eh, eh, eh, a person in need — a person in distress?
“Ah Fran, lets very quickly deal with that, eh. When Mr Ashby came to me he said that, um, he alleged fraud on behalf of Mr Slipper. You know, it has been well known and reported in the Sunshine Coast Daily and throughout many daily Newspapers for years that Mr Slipper has had the most extraordinary levels of travel expenses. You know, clocking up over a thousand dollars in any given single day in taxis alone. Just think about how far you’ve gotta travel to be in a cab for a thousand dollars a day and never an answer.
“These aren’t the allegations in the court are they?”Brough:
“Well, yes, they are, well, sorry, they are the matters which the AFP have now referred to the, D… D… eh, the DPP for, um, examination. So, there are two separate issues. He came and spoke to me about two separate issues. I would put it to you that the Commonwealth should actually be looking at what Mr Ashby is saying as a whistleblower against potential and alleged corruption against the Government and against the public purse and they should actually be examining that information, not trying to hinder him for doing what he is doing. If someone comes to you with alleged evidence of wrongdoing against the commonwealth and you do nothing — then perhaps you are in the wrong and not in the right.
“Eh, no I wasn’t, em, but he did do that, I never forwarded them to anyone and as I say these matters are now, eh, before the, eh, one, the sexual harassment is before the court and the matter of, eh, the alleged, eh, misuse of public funding through travel rorts is a matter for the AFP, so I won’t make any further comments as I’m sure you will understand.
30 July 2012, SMH, Philip Coorey:
At the press conference after Brough had won pre-selection to contest the seat of Fisher for the LNP:
Mr Brough, who originally denied any contact with Mr Ashby when the Slipper case erupted in April, said this morning: "I have always told the truth and the complete truth."
13 December 2012, The Australian, Michael McKenna, Queensland political editor:
[From a media statement issued by Brough.]
After Rares's ruling, Brough uncharacteristically refused to front the media in his own defence.
Instead, the veteran MP and former soldier issued a three-line statement in which he attacked Slipper.
"Today's judgment in the Federal Court changes nothing in relation to Mr Slipper's vile text messages," he said.
"I am sure the people of Fisher are looking forward to their opportunity to have their say on Mr Slipper's behaviour.
"I reiterate that I have at all times acted appropriately in relation to this matter and given the decision is subject to appeal, I do not intend to make further comment."
24 Jan 2013, Kathy Sundstrom, Sunshine Coast Daily:
But hanging over his head are the questions about his invovlement in the James Ashby saga that everyone has been trying to get him to answer.
The topic comes up innocently as we discuss the benefits of Tweeting, Facebooking and the dangers of sending a message that be on record forever.
"You send a frivolous message and in a couple of years time it could come back to haunt you," Mr Brough says.
I say, "Yes, we know too well how that has happened".
"The funny thing was the five texts (concerning his involvement with Ashby) were still there because I didn't delete them. I wouldn't have known how," he says casually.
It provides an opening to the Ashby saga and the Australian Federal Police investigation into whether he has breached three sections of the Criminal Code and Crimes Act.
He suggests there is "nothing to talk about".
"It's run its course," he says.
I bring up the series of questions a journalist from Australians For Honest Politics, among others, have been trying to get him to answer, which I whip out of my handbag.
Brough refused to comment further.
7 Feb 2013, Simon Cullen, ABC online:
Asked whether he thought it was wrong or illegal to obtain parts of Mr Slipper's diary, Mr Brough replied: "Mr Slipper's now about to face court next week and be charged ... on criminal offences relating to allegations of misuse of travel [entitlements].
"I think that's the right and proper place for such matters to be decided, so it would be entirely wrong of me to make any comment whatsoever about such issues."
Justice Steven Rares ruled that Mr Ashby had "acted in combination" with fellow staffer Karen Doane and Mr Brough when commencing the legal proceedings.
Mr Ashby has sought leave to appeal against the court's ruling, which is due to be heard in Sydney tomorrow morning.
Mr Brough insists the sum total of his involvement in the matter has already been fully canvassed and is on the public record.
"There is nothing more to add. There is no other meetings, connections or whatever else," he told ABC News.
"All of the discussion, the text messages - of which there is about half a dozen at most - are all there for anyone to read.
"I have nothing to be ashamed of or would change.
"A person (James Ashby) came to me for assistance. I suggested that they go and get legal advice. I suggested they go to police if they believed a crime had been committed.
"And that is the sum total of my involvement."
When pressed about the court's finding that he and Mr Ashby had worked "in combination", Mr Brough said he was not party to the court action and was not being judged.
Check out IA's full Ashbygate investigation by clicking on the image below:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License