In the wake of Justice Rares damning judgement against James Ashby and his co-conspirators, Vince O’Grady provides more stunning revelations.
Act Four opens with an extraordinary text, full of secretive intrigue.
It is early afternoon on Saturday 4th February, at 1.40 pm:
Tania Hubbard, the former John Howard staffer, texts her friend James Hunter Ashby, adviser to Parliamentary Speaker Peter Slipper:
The solicitors accused of “scandalous misconduct” in the judgement by Justice Rares, Harmers Workplace Lawyers, mention in their comments that Ashby:
‘…had spoken to Mark McArdle who told him not to take such steps and see whether he could ignore the problems.’
But this makes no sense when you read the Tania Hubbard text.
‘No meetings for you with any other Min was what we discussed last night - pass the text forward in hard copy only to Mark - let him move it forward.’
Which says to me that he was going to progress the matter, NOT that he should ignore the problem.
The exchange continues:
Much of the text messages after this time deal with mundane issues — the day-to-day life of a politician; the struggle by advisers to get good press for their MP apparently uppermost in their minds.
Whilst these duties go on, Ashby and Doane – who reportedly despised each other at first sight – become a lot closer as workmates and further develop their disdain for their employer Peter Slipper.
The scenery moves from the concentration on the mobile phone to the new Parliament House in Canberra...
On 19 March 2012, James Ashby and another Staffer meet with Christopher Pyne in the Speaker's office and have drinks for at least one-and-a-half hours. Slipper was in Parliament at the time.
Pyne afterwards was asked (by email) for Ashby’s email address or mobile number. Pyne denied to the press he has done this until the email of his request was produced by outstanding investigative journalist Jessica Wright from the Sydney Morning Herald:
Another meeting between Pyne and Ashby took place in Pyne’s office on 22nd March.
Jess Wright gives the background to all this in her article of May 4:
It is the third time this week Mr Pyne has been forced to alter his account of his dealings with Mr Ashby after he said at the weekend his contact with Mr Slipper's former staffer had been brief."I walk into the reception in the Speaker's office with Speaker's staffers there," Mr Pyne said on Sunday. "I've said hello to all of them, so I passed the time of day with all of them." After the National Times revealed on Tuesday that on the night of March 19 Mr Pyne spent almost two hours drinking and chatting with Mr Ashby and another Slipper staffer in the Speaker's office, the Liberal frontbencher defended the meeting, saying: "I have nothing to hide." Mr Slipper was not present for the majority of the evening, returning late after an adjournment debate in the chamber. Mr Pyne left the office shortly after Mr Slipper's arrival.Asked if he had ever sought Mr Ashby's contact details, Mr Pyne replied: "I don't remember ever having asked for Mr Ashby's number."But Mr Pyne again altered his recollection of the March 19 meeting on Wednesday when the existence of Mr Pyne's email - and a subsequent text message - was revealed by Fairfax papers."I don't remember asking for those, but by the same token I could well have," he told ABC Radio yesterday when asked if he had sent the email.The email added instant fuel to claims made by Labor that Mr Pyne and others in the Coalition had prior knowledge of Mr Ashby's sexual harassment claim lodged against Mr Slipper, which has forced Mr Slipper to stand down indefinitely from the chair.Mr Pyne this week confirmed he had met Mr Ashby three times - including a meeting at which he personally handed over a wine bottle signed by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott intended as a farewell gift for a Slipper staffer.It is understood Mr Pyne's meeting with Mr Ashby to hand over the wine - initially delivered to Mr Abbott's office for signing - was only three days after the late-night meeting in the Speaker's office.
Now, allow Independent Australia to fill in some of the gaps...
The Slipper staffer referred to above is Richard Bruinsma; he was Peter Slipper’s media adviser before Karen Doane. He decided to quit to go and work for the Sunshine Coast Daily — the very publication that had run a vendetta against Peter Slipper for years, as we revealed in Act 2. This news must have filled Slipper with delight, however he was good enough to want to present Richard with a memento. He decided a signed bottle of wine from the Opposition Leader and one from the Prime Minister would be an appropriate wat to do so. He asked Ashby to sort it out. Ashby then went into Peter Slipper’s office and, according to sources, took away several bottles of wine, took one to the PM’s office for signing and another to Tony Abbott’s office. But strangely, as reported by Jess, Ashby went not to Abbott’s, but to Christopher Pyne’s office to pick up the signed bottle. The question must be asked: why was the bottle in Pyne’s office and not Abbott’s?
Could it be that Pyne had gone to Abbott’s office to discuss the James Ashby conspiracy and taken back the bottle to deliver to Ashby — along with a message? We would dearly love to know the honest answer to this question.
What other secrets is Christopher Pyne hiding?
In any case, on 23 March 2012, Ashby texts McArdle and congratulates him on his campaign. Ashby also telephones Mal Brough and meets with him — the villain who needed to be “destroyed” suddenly the good guy. Apparently they met about complaints Ashby had about Slipper.
March 24 is Queensland election day.
On 26 March, McArdle responds with a thanks, to which Ashby replies:
Ashby, meanwhile, continues to moonlight as an assistant for various LNP State MP’s, including Andrew Powell and McArdle.
This issue of this help comes to a head in a furious text exchange between Slipper and Ashby on 26 March 2012, when Slipper tells Ashby that he is no longer a free agent and, basically, his only loyalty should be to Slipper — and not helping LNP members who might be working against his re-election. Seems reasonable. Ashby declares his unswerving loyalty and disdain for the Mal Brough — who he had secretly met to complain about Slipper just three days before:
Two days later, on March 28, comes message #14944 (Doane to Ashby):
‘What month in 2009 forward?’
Message #14945 (Ashby to Doane):
The two messages before these ones are, unfortunately, not in the affidavit.
On 29 March, the following sequence of texts and emails reveals Brough’s further involvement in the saga. Here he is emailing Steve Lewis, the News Ltd journalist:
And the texts:
From this sequence of messages, it is clear that Ashby and Brough had discussed Peter Slipper’s travel diary and that Ashby had asked Karen Doane to copy pages from it, which she then sends to Ashby. Ashby in turn sends them to Brough. Brough has been leaking the documents to Lewis in an effort to discredit Slipper. Don’t forget Brough is, at this stage, in the running for pre-selection for Slipper’s seat of Fisher.
Earlier the same day, Doane and Ashby have been texting each other about two other names — both of whom are shadowy figures who have their political fingers in the pie. They are referred to as “Jackie” and “Murray”. Independent Australia is confident that “Murray” is, in fact, Murray Hansen — chief of staff to Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop. Our investigations reveal that Ashby met Hansen, with Bishop, at Peter Slipper’s house in 2011 after a function at Gowinta, before Ashby began working for Slipper and while Slipper was still a member of the LNP.
A May 7 article by Michelle Grattan shows Ashby had been in direct contact with Bishop’s office on more than one occasion during the same period as these texts [emphasis IA]:
A STAFFER of Speaker Peter Slipper twice contacted the office of Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop claiming he had been harassed in his workplace before public allegations were made against the Speaker.As the government seeks to probe what information the opposition had before Mr Slipper's staffer, James Ashby, made his allegations of the Speaker's sexual harassment and misuse of Cabcharges, Ms Bishop told The Age last night the contacts were in late March and early April.The male staffer had said someone in the Queensland Liberal National Party had advised him to get in touch with Ms Bishop's office.She said the staffer, who had not specified sexual harassment, had been told by her staff to contact the Finance Department, which handled staff employment. Her office informed her about the matter after the second contact, but she was not told the man's name and did not know whether her office knew it. As far as she was concerned ''that was the end of it.'' After Mr Ashby's claims were reported in the media, she spoke to Tony Abbott's office about the contact.
Independent Australia has rung Murray Hansen leaving a message asking for confirmation, but as at time of publication he has not returned our call.
As for the true identity of “Jackie”, we’re not prepared to say just yet, but we are closing in.
Back to the texts.
Ashby and Doane are both to meet with “Jackie” on March 30 at 10am.
The meeting take place and, at 5. 41pm, Doane texts Ashby (message #15045):
‘Super happy w the chat w Jackie today!! Can't wait for Easter break, too!’
Here is the evidence that Jackie arranged a lawyer for $1
Around 29 March 2012, Mal Brough rang David Russell QC regarding James Ashby and the issue of a sexual harassment complaint.
On 30 March, Karen Doane met with Mal Brough.
At 9.04 am on 2 April, Karen Doane sent an email to Mal Brough, attaching her resume. At 10.16 am, Mal Brough sends the resume onto Bruce McIver, the president of the Liberal National Party, also revealing in the email that McIver and he had spoken about Karen Doane the week before. It is very likely McIver knew what was going on with Ashby and Slipper at this juncture.
McIver sends an email back to Brough at 2.18 pm the same day, which says:
“Thanks Mal, sent onto relevant person.”
Brough acknowledges this email at 2.27 pm the same day.
Doane also sent her resume to Andrew Powell.
At 9.07 pm on 2 April, Ashby texts Doane (message #15116):
Just had the most lengthy convo with Steve Lewis. He's flying up Wednesday. Wanna come to coffee with him?
On 3 April at 6.52 am, message #15122 (Doane to Ashby):
I want to balance your harassment charge with one of my own. He is demeaning, aggressive and w his bcc's unprofessional at the very least. However I don't want to diminish your claim in any way. As you said last night, both claims may strengthen the case. I might look for a lawyer myself if we don't have contact soon.
Message #15123 (Ashby to Doane) 3 April 6.54 am:
Yeah I will contact Mal again today. Failing that, I will make contact with someone myself as well.
This is important, because it reveals that Ashby does not have a lawyer as yet.
On 5 April 2012 (in his affidavit), David Russell reveals that Brough called him and they made the appointment for 9.30am on Good Friday, 6 April 2012, at Russell’s Sunshine Coast home. Brough, Ashby and Doane meet Russell as planned, and Russell charges Ashby $1 for his legal advice, and Doane $4.
The affidavit of David Russell QC came late in the piece. It was only entered on the Federal Court document site on 8 October 2012, as part of 479 new pages of submissions to the court.
The next day, another 86 pages were added.
Russell’s affidavit reveals that he is a highly placed Liberal National Party participant and the LNP’s ad hoc legal adviser.
He also reveals that Ashby had, by this time, contacted Harmers Lawyers:
Russell had never heard of the Liberal Party’s favourite lawyers, Harmers? Really?
This seems difficult to believe, given earlier in his affidavit, in paragraph 30, he said the following to Mal Brough:
The DJ’s case was the one against David Jones, where Kristy Fraser Kirk sued David Jones and their previous CEO, Mark McInnes, for $37 million. The solicitor Russel mentions, Rachel Francois, was the barrister acting for Fraser Kirk. She was briefed by Harmers Workplace Lawyers in that case. A settlement was finally made for $850,000. Originally the claim before the court was for a massive $37 million damages. In 2011, Harmers was awarded the “Employment specialist firm of the year” for the sixth consecutive year. Harmers Workplace lawyers has been in operation since 1996. It is hardly an inconspicuous law firm. Russell had never heard of them? You decide.
So, between the 3rd – when he had no lawyer – and the 6th, he had spoken to Harmers and decided to use them.
On 4 April 2012, Steve Lewis and Ashby met at a café on the Sunshine Coast.
The following revealing messages were exchanged between the pair:
The affidavit of Michael Harmer attempts to explain the "we will get him" description, by saying it refers to finding the driver of the car they were discussing. This explanation is scathingly rejected by Justice Rares in his judgement, who says it clearly refer to Slipper.
On 5 April, Ashby and Lewis are still in touch discussing Slipper.
On 6 April, Ashby asks Lewis for his email address, which Steve Lewis sends to Ashby:
Steve Lewis and Ashby had a further discussion re diary dates on 9 April:
Ashby then asks Karen Doane to photograph the dates with her phone and either pass them on to him or send directly to Steve Lewis.
On 10 April 2012, James Ashby started the last scene of Act 4 in the tragedy. He travels to Sydney to meet up with Steve Lewis from News Ltd — his hotel room paid for by News Ltd.
On 11 April 2012, Ashby meets with Harmers Workplace Lawyers.
From this time on, his actions are determined by Harmers. He is advised to speak to no-one. A media adviser (Anthony McClellan) is engaged by Ashby. Indeed, after having a drink with him on the night of 11 April, he will not even talk to Steve Lewis.
Why would employment lawyers like Harmer’s advise Ashby to have 24-hour security?
Let’s come down from the clouds of intrigue and look at a few facts:
1. Ashby is alleging two things:
- sexual harassment by Slipper and the Commonwealth; and
- that Slipper misused cab charge dockets (withdrawn later)
2. Sexual harassment is not a criminal offence. Studies have shown the level of compensation in such case are modest:
‘The lowest amount of compensation received was $364 and the largest was $114,128, with an average amount of $13,596.31 per complainant and a median compensation figure of $7,000. Some gender differences were noted regarding the amount of compensation received, with only female complainants receiving payments greater than $50,000.’
3. Sexual harassment is normally resolved by a non-court procedure, but can certainly progress to litigation.
4. Misuse of entitlements – namely, cab charge misuse – if proven, is a crime involving deceit rather than violence.
The person these allegations are made against – sexual harassment and misuse of cab charge dockets – has been a member of Parliament for the best part of 30 years. He is a lawyer, as well as an ordained minister of the Anglican Catholic Church of Australia.
Isn’t it a bit fanciful to have 24-hour surveillance and protection on this bloke Ashby under these circumstances? Who is paying for it?
The other point is that the whole sorry affair is conducted amongst Liberal National Party people and Steve Lewis from News Limited — they are the only ones who apparently know about it. What threat do they pose to Ashby’s life?
Peter Slipper was, at this time, overseas on a parliamentary study tour — so he's not much of a threat.
The text messages supplied from James Ashby’s phone – all 265 pages of them – end on 12 April.
The sexual harassment documents were lodged with the Federal court on 20 April 2012. The story was posted by the Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun and the Courier-Mail at 1 am on 21 April 2012.
Slipper arrives back at Brisbane Airport, amidst a media storm, on 22 April.
And so ends Act 4 — the deed is done, the allegations put, and lawyers and media advisers engaged.
Act 5 looks at the motivations and tactics of the players. Were they acting individually or as a team? And vast Amounts of money was spent by the commonwealth on legal advice — was it all necessary?
What was the real aim of the court action? [Sign the petition requesting an inquiry into finding out who conspired with James Ashby against Peter Slipper.]
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