Peter Slipper did NOT sexually harass James Ashby

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Don't be misled, Justice Rares made it very clear in his judgement that Peter Slipper did not sexually harass James Ashby. Margo Kingston corrects the record.

James Ashby and his former employer Peter Slipper.
James Ashby and his former employer Peter Slipper.

IN THE ABSENCE of any major mainstream news features on, or serious analysis of, the Ashby judgement – and via unchallenged misinformation about what it decided by Opposition frontbenchers – several misconceptions have arisen among people.

One is that Peter Slipper did sexually harass James Ashby, but that Justice Rares threw it out because the purpose of suing was to destroy Slipper and bring down the government.

In fact, Justice Rares made it crystal clear that he did not believe that Slipper sexually harassed Ashby.

Sexual harassment is where someone engages in unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature towards someone at work if a reasonable person would expect that the other person would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.

The major evidence of sexual harassment was text messages on February 1, 2012, where it was alleged that Slipper propositioned Ashby and Ashby rejected his advances. Even if true, an unsuccessful advance is not harassment.

Here are just some of the Judge’s statements in his judgement that no sexual harassment took place [IA emphasis]:

[Para] 37. I do not accept Mr Ashby’s commentary that he had feelings of distress and harassment concerning Mr Slipper’s actions. Ms Hubbard’s message quoted in [34] above suggests that at 4 February 2012 Mr Ashby was contemplating that Mr McArdle would use the text messages. The passages I have emphasised from the exchanges of text messages show that Mr Ashby’s discussion with Mr McArdle concerning his text message exchanges with Mr Slipper, particularly those of 1 and 2 February 2012, was to do with empowering Mr McArdle or someone else with the ability to use those messages against Mr Slipper...

38. 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 between Martin, Mr Nagle, Ms Hubbard and Mr Ashby on 3 and 4 February 2012 do not read like those concerning a man claiming to feel sexually harassed or emotionally distressed by such conduct. Rather they read as if the participants were discussing the political ramifications of Mr Ashby revealing material that was sexually and politically embarrassing and that would compromise Mr Slipper and his position as Speaker if it appeared in the public domain... I am satisfied that if Mr Ashby were the victim of sexual harassment he would not have speculated with his friend in this way about whether he would be rewarded by revealing it.

48. In early to mid March 2012 Mr Ashby proposed that he accompany Mr Slipper on a visit to Hungary, at Mr Ashby’s own expense. On 16 March 2012, Mr Slipper emailed Mr Ashby saying that it was not possible for Mr Ashby to accompany him on the trip....

49. It is not credible that when Mr Ashby asked Mr Slipper if he could accompany him to Hungary at his own expense that Mr Ashby had any real concern about sexual harassment or “questionable conduct in relation to travel” on Mr Slipper’s part. Such a trip had every potential to expose Mr Ashby to one or both categories of the alleged misconduct he subsequently complained of. If Mr Ashby were seriously concerned about either of these matters at that time, it defies belief that he would have volunteered to pay his own way to accompany Mr Slipper rather than stay in Australia away from the supposed source of his harassment and concerns. This episode demonstrates the likelihood that Mr Ashby’s case involves an adventitious use by him of incautious text messages by Mr Slipper for the predominate purpose alleged by Mr Slipper.

*EDITOR'S NOTE: The headline for this piece was written by IA, not the author, who has suggested we add the ": judge" to the end of it. IA stands by this headline and believes it is entirely accurate for two main reasons and one secondary reason. Firstly, it is clear, as alluded to by Margo's piece above, that Justice Rares did consider in great depth whether James Ashby was sexually harassed by Peter Slipper and his judgement makes it clear he did not think Ashby had been, and he expressed this view in no uncertain terms. Secondly, our advice is that it is almost unthinkable Rares would have dismissed the case as an abuse of process if there had been any reasonable expectation that Slipper had a case to answer for sexual harassment. The final reason we stand unreservedly by our headline is that Independent Australia has investigated the case of Ashby and Slipper in incredible depth through hundreds of hours of detailed research — and it is our considered conclusion that Ashby's allegation of sexual harassment against Peter Slipper was utterly unfounded and insincere. If circumstances later prove us to be wrong – and we very much doubt they will – we will gladly apologise and accept our error.

(You can read the Justice Rares' full judgement here. Follow Margo Kingston on Twitter @margokingston1. Read more about this and other issues at the Australians for Honest Politics website.)

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