Ashbygate questions to answer — but a deafening silence

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The mainstream media and the Coalition have many questions to answer about the James Ashby conspiracy, says Vince O’Grady, who sets them out in detail.

Image: Bruce Keogh (facebook.com/bkrunsamock).
Image: Bruce Keogh (facebook.com/bkrunsamock).

[Get up to date by reading Vince’s five part series: The Tragedy of Ashby and Slipper.]

IT IS extraordinarily easy to impugn someone’s reputation.

All you have to do is to call them a liar. Even it’s not true, the slur sticks and they are forever seen as a liar.

This implies that we cannot trust that person and anything they say is not able to be believed.

It is probably the lowest act a person has in their armoury — to heap discredit on a person for their own, selfish, ends.

When we reverse the spotlight, and look at the accuser, we should look towards their motivation for the outright slurs and for the innuendo they have been perpetrating.

The time has come therefore for us all to swing the spotlight onto Tony Abbott and the rest of his pack and see what their agenda really is.

There is no doubt that, from time immemorial, the Liberal Party of Australia have always gone all out to discredit progressive left-leaning parties and individuals. They are the parties of the “Communists”, of the “pinkos”, of the “lefties”, and the “greenies”.

For instance, “the socialist peccadilloes of the Labor Party” was a phrase I heard recently.

If one were to say “the fascist tactics of the Liberal Party” you would be howled down, perhaps find yourself in the mainstream press and perhaps Joe Hockey might tell you to “go to Hell”.

There have been many attacks against the Government since the 2010 election — many slurs and much right wing “commentary”.

Two of the most important political attacks have been the Thomson and the Slipper affairs.

Independent Australia was actually asking significant questions about the Thomson affair – Jacksonville, as it has become known – back in May 2012. But the rest of the mainstream media has remained pretty much silent on the issue. This is despite Peter Wicks and David Donovan spending hundreds of hours hunting down the facts of the case. For example, they discovered that the credit card had the wrong spelling of his name and that the receipt put up by Fairfax as proof he had paid for sex at a brothel actually showed the transaction had been declined.

Indeed, Fairfax’s proof was found to be not adequate for a court action, forcing the FWA on a massive, last-minute, fishing expedition — which netted absolutely nothing.

Where was the retraction by the main stream media?

Of course, there was none.

A charge will not be proceeded with, in a criminal complaint, when something is seen to have sufficient reasonable doubt that the chance of it succeeding in a court of law is deemed slim.

Is that the reason that Craig Thomson was never charged with an offence during the last two years?

I think it might be.

The same may be the case with James Ashby and with Peter Slipper.

It is worthwhile shining a spotlight on time line of the events of the case to ask the mainstream media some questions, before then asking the Federal Opposition some real questions.

Readers will all remember the clamour Julie Bishop went on with in the last sitting week of Parliament about the non-event that is the AWU saga, saying the Prime Minister had questions to answer, well IA has a lot of questions to ask various members of the Federal Opposition about an issue that was baked in the last year, is the subject of a Federal Court judgment, and yet all we hear from the Opposition is that the Labor Party is hyperventilating and that there is no conspiracy.

There are two sets of circumstances that stand out in the events surrounding Slipper and Ashby.

The first set of events I want to focus on involve three people. They are Christopher Pyne and his office, Julie Bishop and her office and, finally, Mal Brough.

On Monday 19 March 2012, Christopher Pyne walked along the corridors of Parliament House and ended up in the Speaker’s office, where he had a few drinks with James Ashby and another Staffer.

Afterwards, he denied that he had asked James Ashby for his email address, but it later transpired, as reported by Jessica Wright of the Sydney Morning Herald, that in fact he had and she produced proof that he had.

During this meeting, Pyne was adamant that he had not talked to Ashby about sexual harassment or Peter Slipper.

The following day, Tuesday 20 March, if we are to believe Julie Bishop the deputy leader off the Opposition, James Ashby contacted her office to complain about Sexual harassment by Peter Slipper. The reason I have chosen this day is because Ms Bishop said the following:

"About a month before the story broke he contacted my office."

Now, the story broke at 1am on 21 April 2012 — so one month before is about 20 March (give or take a day or so).

On Thursday 22 March 2012, James Ashby went to Christopher Pyne’s office to collect a bottle of wine, which had been signed by the Opposition Leader to give to Richard Bruinsma, Slipper’s previous media adviser.

Just for the uninitiated, I have included the days because Parliament only sits from Monday to Thursday, after which there is an exodus home to all parts of Australia for most MPs.

On 23 March, James Ashby and Karen Doane met Mal Brough on the Sunshine Coast for 3 hours and Brough is on record as saying he had a responsibility to help him.

It beggars belief that Ashby said not a word to Pyne about the issue when they met on Monday 19 March and had drinks in the Speaker’s office. That Ashby would skip an opportunity with Opposition frontbencher Christopher Pyne to discuss his grievance with his boss Peter Slipper, whom he alleges sexually harassed him.

It defies reason that, rather, he would instead go to the deputy leader of the Opposition’s office and complain to them about Peter Slipper when the day before he had, in an intimate setting, the manager of Opposition business.

It defies credulity that two days later he would have not mentioned the fact of his sexual harassment to the staff in Pyne’s office when he collected the bottle of signed wine.

The wine. It is also very interesting that the bottle of wine actually ended up in Christopher Pyne office when the bottle of wine had been signed by Tony Abbott and had nothing to do with Pyne. Why was it in Pyne’s office?

It beggers belief – no, it is actually a gross insult to our intelligence –  that Ashby, who says he had made up his mind to proceed with his complaint in a text to Mark McArdle on Monday 26 March actually rang Mal Brough – a man with no legal qualifications, experience or training – on Friday 23 March 2012 just after he had discussed the issues with Mark McArdle — an experienced lawyer and mediator and the one-time Queensland Justice spokesman and shadow Attorney-General.

So, here it is: James Ashby goes to see Christopher Pyne (a practicing solicitor before entering politics) on Monday 19 March; then, the next day (or thereabouts), he goes to Julie Bishop’s office (high profile barrister and solicitor before becoming an MP) for advice about sexual harassment; and then goes back to Pyne’s office again a couple of days later, on 22 March. (What a busy boy!)

Isn’t it strange that he has talked to lawyer after Coalition lawyer — and then ended up getting the legal advice form a man who absolutely has no legal skills whatsoever.

Especially given his close contact with Mark McArdle.

Recently, David Donovan and I reviewed the evidence from the Federal Court site anew and noticed again that many of the texts were left out of the annexure to Michael Harmer's last affidavit, but some of them were mentioned in the 1704 pages of other evidence before the court.

One couple that Ashby knew stood out, and they were the Nagles – Jacqueline and Paul – who we can reveal are the owners of Lacoa Management and Property in Yeppoon in Central Queensland.

A source has told IA that there was a relationship between the Nagles and Ashby of at least two years.

The following text messages showed that Ashby had confided in them to an extraordinary degree, especially given that they lived nearly 500 kilometres away from the Sunshine Coast.

On 25 November 2011, Jacqueline Nagle sent the following Text.


This is the day after Slipper had been appointed Speaker of the House of Representatives and had resigned from the LNP.

At this time, Ashby had refused a job with Peter Slipper and was not employed by him.

Ashby texted him on 24 November 2011:


He remembers the time when he discussed it with Slipper, roughly 6 weeks before, in message 10081 — exactly 2,000 texts ago.

This is a really interesting and sensitive question she is asking Ashby. What does it mean? It appears to show she has at least some knowledge of what was going on.

I wonder where the messages missing after this are? The next 7 messages are not in Harmer’s annexure to his affidavit.

But let’s look at the events again in the scandal and concentrate on the month when Ashby apparently decided to make the allegations.

On 25 December 2011, McArdle wishes Ashby a happy Christmas:


2 January 2012, Slipper and Ashby fly down to Canberra for the beginning of the week  Mon 3 January. Ashby stays in Slipper’s residence. Ashby asks what he should  wear — a curious thing for a man who has been a marketing and PR manager to ask another man.

During this week, the alleged incidents with the shower door being open and the massage were supposed to have taken place — although, of course, there is no corroborating evidence to support these allegations.

On 6 January 2012, Ashby travels back to Sunshine Coast, but texts his wealthy chum Will Hughes (allegedly a leading proponent of the rather non-Liberal Party Zeitgeist Movement).


He also contacts Mark McArdle:


Then, on 14 January 2012, in a car travelling to work, Slipper is supposed to have asked a lewd question of Ashby. Again, there is no other evidence this event actually occurred and even less evidence Ashby was upset — and indeed later that eveninghe went to a themed fancy dress party with Slipper.

Here’s what Justice Rares said about Ashby's state of mind:

What is singular about all of the text message exchanges that Mr Ashby had with his friends and others in the period prior to the commencement of these proceedings is the lack of any complaint by him of feeling sexually harassed. And his friends’ texts had no words of comfort for Mr Ashby as a victim of some traumatic experience of that kind. The exchanges ... do not read like those concerning a man claiming to feel sexually harassed or emotionally distressed by such conduct.

On 23 January 2012, the following texts are sent:


No upset there.

1 February 2012:



Message 13392 is missing. 13393 is from Tim Knapp.

An altercation about being closer follows. The next morning, Slipper apologises.


2 February 2012:


So, Ashby has made an appointment with McArdle to discuss sexual harassment.

3 February 2012:


The next message is missing.

4 February 2012:


Tania Hubbard used to work for John Howard. Ashby has obviously discussed the sexual harassment with her.

On 4 Feb 2012, the following  messages went between James Ashby and Paul Nagle [IA emphasis]:

Sent by Paul Nagle at 1.46am UTC, read by Ashby 11.46am AEST:

Hey did Mal ask you for lunch or did u ask him?

At 1.47am UTC, sent by Ashby 11.47am AEST:

It’s a group lunch. He’ll be there.

At 1.48am UTC read by Ashby. 11.48am AEST:

Oh ok, thought if he asked you, chances are he already knew

So,  Paul Nagle, 500 clicks away, knows all about this as well.

This does not appear in the book of evidence submitted by Harmers. It is two days after Ashby has seen McArdle with the “100% confidential” message. So, Paul Nagle knows and it looks like he has surmised that McArdle has passed it onto Brough.
On 6 February  2012, more discussions between Ashby and McArdle:


The next message is missing.

On 14 February 2012, Ashby has more exchanges with McArdle — who is clearly deeply involved in this whole affair.

Skip forward to 26 February 2012, when a furious text row between Slipper and Ashby about Ashby’s loyalty occurs.  Slipper is annoyed Ashby is moonlighting for the local LNP State MPs without consulting or getting permission to do so.

Ending this exchange:


On 8 March 2012, Slipper has cause to chastise Ashby about a post he has put up — again without asking permission.


Ashby texts McArdle:


In here are the 19 March meeting with Pyne in the Speaker’s office, the apparent meeting with Julie Bishop’s staff on 20 March, the bottle of wine collection on 22 March from Pyne’s office, and then the meeting with Malcolm Brough on 23 March.

Making an utter mockery of Brough’s claims about acting properly and only discussing legal matters with Ashby, on 29 March 2012 we find James texting private diary notes from Slipper’s diary to Brough. How this is assisting James with his profound feelings of sexual harassment has never been explained.

Anyway, Mal Brough rings David Russell QC to meet with Ashby on this day.


The next day, 30 March 2012, Ashby tells his friends how he feels about what he is doing:


So this guy knows as well.

A few days later, on 4 April 2012, James Ashby and Steve Lewis meet in a café on the Sunshine Coast.

On 6 April 2012, Brough, Doane and Ashby meet with David Russell QC at his Sunshine Coast residence:


10 April 2012, Ashby flies down to Sydney, after lying to Slipper’s office on the Sunshine Coast about being sick.

On this day, the following phone SMS messages between James Ashby and Paul Nagle are exchanged:

At 8.45am UTC sent by Ashby. 6.45pm AEST:

Lots going on. Just a quick note to say its all about to erupt. Stories likely to start coming out in Thursday’s paper. Sexual harassment case likely to come out next week. Legal team meeting me in  Sydney at 8pm pro bono.

At 8.46am UTC read by Ashby. 6.46pm AEST:

Good stuff, good luck, talk soon...

So Ashby is telling him that a sexual harassment case will go ahead even before he has seem the lawyers, Harmers.

11 April Ashby meets with these lawyers and the tragedy continues.


So, we have two sets of questions.

A. To the mainstream media:

1. When are you going to do your jobs and start to ask serious questions about these issues?

2. Why do you not question the participants about to the missing messages in the Harmer's Annexure to Affidavit?

B. To the people involved in the case:

1. To Jacqueline Nagle, on 25 November 2011 at 8.21am in the morning: what did you mean when you asked James Ashby if he was ‘having fun with Mr Slipper yet??’

2. To Jacqueline Nagle: what is your connection to James Ashby?

3. To Paul Nagle: How do you know James Ashby and what has he told you about the Peter Slipper Sexual harassment complaints? How long have you known about the complaints?

4. To Mark McArdle: What legal advice did you give to James Ashby? Why did James Ashby say he went to Mal Brough for legal advice when Brough has no legal qualifications?

5. To Mark McArdle: Why did you not pass on Mr Ashby to David Russell QC, as we understand you know him?

6. To Mark McArdle: Why, given that you are a lawyer, were the shadow Minister for Justice and the shadow Attorney-General, did you not offer the legal advice that the untrained Mal Brough apparently did?

7. To Julie Bishop: Please advise the exact date that James Ashby contacted your office about sexual harassment? You have said it was about a month before the complaint was lodged, and that would make it around 20 March 2012. Is that the correct date?

8. To Julie Bishop: Did your staff open a file and minute the advice they gave to James Ashby? If they did not ‒ given the seriousness of sexual harassment claims made ‒ then why not?

9. To Julie Bishop: Is it believable that James Ashby had contact with two senior frontbench Opposition MPs or their staff in a two day period and that he didn’t talk about Sexual harassment to Christopher Pyne the day before he spoke to your staff?

10.  To Christopher Pyne: What was the contents of the discussion you had with James Ashby in the Speaker’s office on 19 March? Did you discuss Ashby’s allegations of sexual harassment by Peter Slipper?

11. To Christopher Pyne: Why did you ask for James Ashby’s phone number? Why did you deny that you had asked for his phone number?

12. To Christopher Pyne: On 22 March 2012, James Ashby picked up a bottle of wine from your office which had been signed by the opposition leader, Mr Abbott for Mr Slipper’s previous media adviser Richard Bruinsma. Why was it in your office? Did you meet with James Ashby on that date? If you did, then what did you discuss?

13. To Christopher Pyne: Did you give James Ashby Mal Brough’s telephone number so he could contact him?

14. To Christopher Pyne: Are you willing to stand in front of the press for an unspecified length of time until all questions about your involvement have been asked and satisfactorily answered? (Same question to all others)

15. To Mal Brough: Do you believe that you have faithfully carried out the requirements of the LNP Code of Ethics? Do you believe in the LNP Code of Ethics?

16. To Mal Brough: Have you discussed this case with LNP President Bruce McIver? If so, what have you discussed?

17. To Tony Abbott: What involvement have you had to bring infamy and disgrace upon your former best friend?

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