(All images in this piece by John Graham / johngraham.alphalink.com.au)

James Ashby is a man of mystery. What politically ambitious person accuses the Federal Speaker of sexual harassment? The Ashbygate Trust delves deeper.

IT IS NOW SIX MONTHS since the Federal Court heard Ashby and Harmer’s leave to appeal. There’s no telling when the decision will be bought down, but we wouldn’t bet against just before Christmas.

A decision either way will clear some of the air — a win for Ashby means he and others, including Karen Doane (if she can be found), can be called as witness under oath, a loss means Rares’ judgement stands.

As far as truth is concerned, both outcomes have a downside.

If an appeal is granted, Slipper might not be in any position to mount a robust case because he’s been bled dry — emotionally and financially. Friends are few and far between when you’re a feather duster.

If denied and Rares’ judgement stands, then we are pretty much left with the same opaque soup we have now. Until the fun of the costs hearing, of course, when we might just see who is paying the piper.

From the organisers’ POV, Ashbygate was always a marketing and branding exercise   and it was brilliantly done:

Slipper, slippery, MUSSELS!

What if Peter Slipper’d been born Peter Murdoch?

Like all marketing campaigns, it had its above-the-line and its below-the-line components.

Above the line, a tight-knit cabal played its cards close to the chest, ensuring only a chosen few were let in on the secret and no obvious communication trail was laid between Brough and his minders.

Some bits slipped out: Pyne and Brough’s extracted confessions of their dealings with Ashby, Julie Bishop’s apparent lack of knowledge regarding her staff’s communications with Ashby, Entsch’s call to Abbott a few hours before the Tele story broke at 12.01am on 21 April 2012 — enough for a pretty good flow chart. Several players privy to the workings of this cabal were not elected representatives and, because of this, they made mighty fine messengers.

If there really is a Flying Spaghetti Monster, we beseech the entity to give the Labor and the Greens the balls to go for a senate enquiry while they can. Those we’d like to see front the enquiry include, at least, the following:

Brough, Doane and Ashby of course;

Warren Entsch, Brough’s good mate. He’s the guy who phoned Abbott before the story had broken in the Tele, the guy who called Steve Lewis (specifically) at the Tele before the story broke, the guy who reckons he was told about the upcoming story by a ‘source’;

  • Pyne;
  • his chief of staff, James Newberry, who is married to;
  • Suzanne Newberry, Entsch staffer former executive assistant to;
  • Brian Loughnane, Federal Liberal Party President, who is married to;
  • Peta Credlin, who is chief of staff to …

Oh, and Jackie Kelly. And Julie Bishop staffer Murray Hansen.

The following is an excerpt of a transcript from a doorstop done by now Education Minister Christopher Pyne on June 15, 2012:

Journalist: Just on another matter, you were talking about dirt units and questions of policy. A court heard today that James Ashby is supplying information to political opponents. Were you one of them?

Pyne: No, Absolutely not. None at all

Journalist: Is there anything else you’d like to say about your association with James Ashby?

Pyne: Look, I’ve answered all those questions before. The court is hearing from Mr Slipper’s lawyers and the commonwealth lawyers today. If the Labor Party has any evidence of me being involved in this federal court action they should bring it out.

Journalist: Mr Pyne, what’s the role of James Newbury on your staff?

Pyne: James Newbury assists me with the day to day running of the parliamentary tactics and strategy because he is the liaison on all matters to do with the chamber.

Journalist: Is he responsible for compiling a dirt file on Labor MPs?

Pyne: Absolutely not

Journalist: Has he ever been asked to do background checks on Labor MPs?

Pyne: Look, there’s more chance of James Newbury dancing the Pasa Doble [sic] than there is of him running a dirt unit in my office.

Journalist: have you ever asked James Newbury to compile information on Labor MPs?

Pyne: No.

Journalist: Has Tony Abbott ever asked James Newbury to compile information?

Pyne: Not that I am aware of, no.

Journalist: would you like him to do a Pasa Doble?

Pyne: Look, it would be exciting in the office for James to attempt the Pasa Doble, but he’s a very good staff member, I have great regard for him, and he’s not involved in any of those activities.

The Paso Doble, BTW, is an erotic Spanish dance performed by couples to the music of the bullfight. As the Spanish might say, figura.

Pyne does not like Brough. At all.

Both were part of Howard’s “Praetorian Guard”, but their mutual antipathy is well-known. Pyne wanted a fresh candidate in Fisher, someone he could mould, not an old army fart like Brough. Pyne was firmly in the anyone but Brough for Fisher camp. Pyne’s problem was the developer sleaze that is Sunshine Coast politics. It wanted Brough!

But wait… What if there was a way to mortally wound both Brough and the ALP government? At the same time! How cool would that be?

Then there’s below the line — James Ashby.

Ashby has always enjoyed a bit of bother.

In 2002, he was a host on Newcastle radio station NXFM when he called a drivetime host from another station and told him, among other things, that he would kill him and that, if James had been his mother, he would have drowned him at birth. He copped a three-year good behaviour bond and a $2,060 fine for using a carriage service in an offensive-manner. He said it had been a joke.

In February 2011, according to the owner of the Key Restaurant in Maleney, where Ashby had installed himself as pro bono bar manager, Ashby and two guys we won’t name barged in during full dinner service, hassled patrons and made complete knuckleheads out of themselves. Quite a scene apparently. One of the guys who was with Ashby that night told us it was a dispute about who owned what equipment, the owner told us that it was because he had finally put his foot down regarding the increasing number of young barmen and their effect on his Sunshine Coast hinterland patrons.

Then the great Gowinta strawberry poisoning of May 2011, the one where PR marketing manager Ashby called the media who then called the police who then co-incidentally turned up for the camera op at the same time as the cameras. The classic shot of Ashby kneeling in the verdant strawberries ‒ policeman in the background – is a ripper. Beautifully composed.

There are other stories but you get the idea.

In a word of caution to all employers, James was hired to both Gowinta and the Speaker’s office without a CV. Can you believe it? Not one background check. Where are the security services when you need them? Would the Speaker have hired someone with a criminal record and a proven abusive personality if he’d known? Ashby swanned around Parliament House with no verification. He’s slick. And dangerous.

Ashby elbowed his way into Peter Slipper’s life in early 2011. If you believe (anything) in his statement, in a stroke of genius he decided the Gowinta on-site caravans, normally used to store backpackers in the picking season, would be ideal for boat people. Cheaper than motels.

Filled with goodwill toward the desperate, Ashby contacted local MP Slipper who reluctantly accepted an invitation to attend the farm then didn’t bother to turn up. Not happy, James drove to Slipper’s Buderim office and complained. Slipper then, reluctantly, attended Gowinta. He apparently told James ‘it wasn’t the Liberal party’s stance to house boat people’. According to Ashby, ‘He was quite stale the first time I met him’ (Slipper does not recall this alleged meeting).

Then things started changing.

James became embroiled in Sunshine Coast LNP politics, rising, by November, to the lofty heights of vice-chairman of the Beerwah branch. He began hobnobbing with the likes of Mark McCardle and Mal Brough. For whatever reason, he kept this latter relationship pretty much on the QT. He had political ambitions. Just not conventional political ambitions.

Ambition — noun 1.an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction.

James’ alleged political ambitions are well-documented — they’re scattered across texts, emails and witness statements.

21 May 2011: James Ashby, then marketing manager of Gowinta strawberry farm, briefs police on a sudden poisoning scare. (Picture: Megan Slade via The Courier-Mail and News Ltd)

But who, in their politically-ambitious right mind, would allege in open court that the Speaker of the House had put it on them?

That’s it, political career over.

Mind you, Ashby did think a Speaker need not have been elected to Parliament, but it’s hard to believe he’s that stupid.

So what was in it for him? Let’s forget the contrived precious bullshit about ‘this man must be stopped’, let’s look at a man with a taste for aeroplanes and sports cars, a previously young spunk starting to age and bulge and recede. He’s after a lifestyle way beyond the means of a humble political staffer. He’s stuck at living at his mum’s and working at a strawberry farm.

What to do to get ahead?

Of all the Sunshine Coast political identities, Slipper was the easy mark. Branch-stacked, politically isolated, Slipper was a lonely one-man island in a developer-infested sea. He was desperate to see smoke on the horizon, any smoke.

In puffed James (via right –wing ingénue Rhys Reynolds).

Can I help mate? I’ve got a great camera. I understand Youtube. I’ll call you nearly every day, text you, came round to your house, I can help. I am an ally, a friend. I’m gay, though I keep it to myself. Judy McCardle told me you and Tim had it off so maybe that’s your weak point. God, did I say that out loud?

At this point any game was possible, but how to turn a budding relationship with a political living dead into a gain?

Then something else happened. A meeting, maybe by chance. Maybe a tryst. Maybe a long tryst. Maybe a tryst with someone who understood the game.

In the background is a strange character, a Dr No. According to James, a scientist so smart he retired at 40. In reality, a guy who inherited bucketloads and has a BSc from Rockhampton University (CQU). Lives in a fortress. Rightwing Zeitgeist.

Dr NoDr No turns up in the text logs from time to time, he can be seen sitting on the couch with James, egging him to egg Slipper on. Make him say more.

Hipsters that we are, the Ashbygate Trust has some sympathy with the motives of the Zeitgeist movement, although its movies suck, as we have with its twin, Occupy!

But there is a fringe, as with all movements, that can only be described as out there. And when it comes to out there with Zeitgeist, we’re talking out there. Think Guy Fawkes.

So there are the components. A chemical stew waiting for a test tube.

Merry Xmas to all ye faithful and a happy Festivus to the rest of us. See you next year for the next exciting instalment.

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