Vince O’Grady continues his groundbreaking series which, for the first time, shows what really happened in Ashbygate — another IA investigation.
[Read Act One] | [Read Act Two] | [Read Act 4] | [Read Act Five]
ACT THREE commences with a set of discussions leading up to Ashby’s acceptance of the new job offer as an adviser in Slipper’s office, still more characters are introduced and the “Cleudo” become more and more difficult to solve.
Is it blind ambition, greed for the money, power, sex or just stupidity?
Or is it a little bit of all of them?
Act Two of this drama ended with a verbal offer of a job on 2 December 2011 and a text to his friend Andrew "Suncorp" – whose real name we can reveal now is Andrew Clarke – on 3 December showed his excitement at this offer.
Anyway, Ashby and Slipper meet for coffee at Montego’s at 7.30am on 4 December 2011 to discuss the job offer.
In the meantime, their interest is still with Mal Brough texting about what he is saying on the Andrew Bolt program.
On 5 December 2011, James Hunter Ashby was formally offered the job of adviser to the Speaker of the Australian Parliament.
But Ashby had not yet made his mind up to take the job.
His texts to Andrew "Suncorp" Clarke show some trepidation about of the possible reaction from Mark McArdle:
The job discussion with his friends continued on the next day with Rhys Reynolds, saying he was accepting the job — no matter what others in LNP ranks might think. Perhaps it was the lure of a $156,000 pay package?
Whatever the reason, Ashby signed the contract of employment as adviser to the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Australian Parliament (Peter Slipper) at a dinner at Slipper's house on the night of 10 December 2011. Andrew Clarke, or Bill as Peter Slipper called him (after Bill Clinton) was also there.
Ashby started work for Slipper on either Thursday or Friday, 22 or 23, December 2011.
On 25 December (Christmas Day) Mark McArdle sent the following text to Ashby.
Message #12404 (McArdle to Ashby):
James have a great Christmas Day and Judy and I will catch up with you in the New Year. Regards Mark and Judy.
On Boxing Day, according to reliable sources, Ashby rather presumptuously went around to the Slipper's house at around 8am, allegedly uninvited, to discuss Peter Slipper's social media strategy and stayed there much of the day.
On 27 December, messages 12461 to 12465 are about playing with the press. Ashby explains how he has been playing a reporter. Slipper calls him "badboyjamie" and then "goodboyjamie" in messages 12461 and 12463 respectively. Slipper asks Ashby:
"Oh you prefer bad to good?”
Ashby then texts to Slipper:
Ashby has been employed for less than a week and is using this sort of language with his new employer. This text refers to his old employer Len Smith. One wonders, if Mr Smith used language like this to Ashby, why did he not make a claim of harassment against Mr Smith under the Fair Work Act?
December 29 is, according to the text messages, Mal Brough's birthday. Several texts are exchanged about pre-selection for the Fisher electorate – Peter Slipper's seat – and the so-called branch stacking by Brough, and if they can arrange a pre-selection election before Brough’s people have enough time in the branch to secure voting rights.
On January 2012, Slipper and Ashby travelled down to Canberra together. They met at Slipper's Sunshine Coast house and then travel to Brisbane airport.
They must have been on the plane and from the messages it appears that the Kurrajong hotel accommodation for Ashby was cancelled.
Ashby stays at Slipper's flat.
On the first day at work, in the original complaint:
18. During the first week of the job, the Second Respondent came into the office of the Applicant and said "Tim [Tim Knapp] says you're my fuck buddy." The Applicant had heard that term at high school, and considered it poor humour but otherwise brushed it off at the time.
20. Later that day, the Applicant and Second Respondent travelled back to the Second Respondent's flat after work. The Second Respondent then said to the Applicant "Can you massage my neck." The Applicant said words to the effect of "Yeah, righto.", as he did not know what other response to give as he was brand new to his job and he was being asked by his employer.
21. The Second Respondent then lay on his bed. He did not have a shirt on and was clothed only in shorts. The Applicant stood beside the bed and began to massage the Second Respondent's neck. After about a minute the Second Respondent began to moan in a manner that to the Applicant indicated intense sexual pleasure. The Applicant was shocked, felt very uncomfortable at what was happening, and stopped immediately, saying "You're done", and proceeded to leave the room. The Second Respondent said "Oh that felt so good."
22. The next morning, Thursday 5 January 2012, as the Applicant was getting ready for work, the Second Respondent suddenly said words to the effect of: "You're a strange one".
The following conversation then took place in words to the effect of:
Second Respondent: "You're weird because you shower with the door shut."
Applicant: "What's weird about that?"
Second Respondent: "You're a prude
Applicant: "You can call me what you like, I'm happy to wear the tag of prude. I don't know what you private schoolboys got up to in your day, but I've never found it normal to shower with the door open. My Dad's never done it, I've never done it, my mates don't do it, that's not weird."
Second Respondent: "But you even go to the toilet with the door shut.
Applicant: It's not weird and it's normal.
Second Respondent: "You should try showering with the door open.
Applicant: It's never gonna happen.
Second Respondent: "What have you got to hide? What are you doing in there?'
Applicant: "I'm not doing anything in there, it's just not normal to shower with the door open."
23. The next morning, the Applicant was woken by the sound of the shower. The Applicant became aware that the Second Respondent was in the shower, because he could hear the way the water fell. The Applicant saw that the door to the bathroom was open. The Second Respondent thereafter continued to shower with the door open for the remainder of that week in Canberra.
Then comes a message to his friend Martin FBI – whose real identity we can now reveal is, in fact, the chef Martin Duncan – on 5th Jan 2012.
Message # 1249 (Ashby to Martin FBI):
have to check my diary mate. I'm currently in the home of the commissioner for Hungary. U have no idea how tonight is!!!! Omg I have so many stories.
In a message to his housemate William Hughes:
Message # 1253 (Ashby to Will Hughes) at 8.01am, 6 Jan 2012:
Yeah coming home today. I'm so pleased to be coming back. I need some normality and a break from Pete. He's been very full on this week! So much to take in so my brain needs a rest. We're catching a commcar back from the airport so I'll ask them to swing into the house or get Connie to come grab me ��
At 2.18pm on the same day, he is texting Mark McArdle.
Message #12640 (Ashby to McArdle):
Hey mark just in transit coming back to the coast for the weekend. Have you got plans sat or Sunday? Wanna do coffee?
Ashby and McArdle met on the 8th Jan 2012 and, after the meeting, Ashby sent McArdle the following message:
Message #12654 (Ashby to McArdle):
Thanks for the catch up today Mark. Sing out if there's anything I can assist with in the background. I also meant to say too, if you'd still like your car sign written I'll do it next weekend if you like
The messages which pass between McArdle and Ashby seem to be entirely normal and not at all tinged with annoyance at Ashby taking the job with Slipper — even though he was warned not to by McArdle and his wife, Judy. It is interesting that he wants to catch up with McArdle immediately after his first week in Canberra. Note also that he offers to do work for McArdle toward the upcoming State election campaign.
The next date that is important is 14 January 2012, when the complaint states the following:
26. On the morning of 14 January 2012, the Applicant drove to the home of the Second Respondent and his wife in order to take the Second Respondent to meet with some of his constituents. The Second Respondent indicated to the Applicant that he wanted coffee before they left. To avoid being late, the Applicant suggested obtaining coffee from a takeaway shop near the Second Respondent's home. The Applicant therefore stopped the car at a takeaway coffee shop located approximately two kilometres from the home of the Second Respondent. After purchasing the coffee, and while they were still parked, the Second Respondent asked the Applicant "Have you ever come in a guy's arse before." The Applicant was shocked to hear this question from his employer and replied "That's not the kind of question you ask people, Peter." The conversation then ceased, but the Applicant could not leave as he was obliged to drive the Second Respondent to the meeting.
There is, of course, no possible way to corroborate this colourful statement. Where is the proof it ever happened — such as through a subsequent shocked text message by the complainant to one of his many friends? We must look with decided scepticism at this alleged occurrence, as it seems very possible that it is a convenient smear to bolster Ashby's rather seeming weak case.
If this alleged exchange occurred – on the evidence of the series of texts between the pair on the very same evening, when the pair went to a "Monopoly" themed fancy dress party – it did not appear to immediately upset Ashby.
The series of text messages between them shows they were, as usual, bantering playfully with each other — with no sign of Ashby being disconcerted by anything Slipper may or may not have said at a takeaway. In fact, once again, the tone is suggestive and sexual.
Message #12866 (Slipper to Ashby):
How going at party. We at windsor.
Message #12870 (Slipper to Ashby) at 9.41 pm, 14 Jan 2012:
It was a good night! Will you be ok to drive home or taking slops? Lol
Message #12871 (Slipper to Ashby):
And that remark is from slips
Message #12872 (Ashby to Slipper):
I'll be getting a hotel tonight
Then comes a very interesting message from Ashby to Slipper early on a Sunday morning, after Ashby had apparently slept in his car. He had found out that the Sunshine Coast Daily had a story about his boss and – surprise, surprise – that it was positive.
Don’t forget, this is the day after Ashby alleges Slipper had asked him:
"Have you ever come in a guy's arse before."
Upset, disillusioned with the job, harassed? I'll leave you to make up your own mind.
Meanwhile, Slipper is on a flight to New Zealand and, after he lands in Auckland, he texts Ashby and asks for his silence on the visit. Ashby agrees, saying: “lips are sealed”
On the 16 January, a new Ashby emerges.
This one is printer Ashby. He accepts an order to print business cards. His firm is Newaimage. On the ABN lookup page, it seems that this firm has been active from 14 Feb 2002. It is registered to James Hunter Ashby and he is a sole trader.
So his three jobs are:
- Adviser to Peter Slipper, Speaker of the House of Representatives.
- LNP confidant of, and media assistant to, MP’s Fiona Simpson (now Speaker of the Queensland Parliament); Mark McArdle, (now Minister for Energy and Water); and, later, to Andrew Powell, the member for Glasshouse.
- Printer of business cards, letterheads and other commercial printing products.
Meanwhile, the intrigue continues, with infighting between LNP parliamentary aspirants and Slipper and Ashby.
One of these messages shows the venom of the relationship. It is about Jarrod Bleijie, the now 30-year-old Queensland Attorney-General. It says he was immature and that it would be good if he didn’t win his seat.
As if you didn’t think there was enough Intrigue in this thriller/tragedy/pantomime, we are about to add some more.
Enter stage extreme right Tania Hubbard. Tania Hubbard also has a significant political pedigree, formerly working for none other than John Howard, the former Prime Minister of Australia.
The text messages show the following.
Message # 12961 (Tania Hubbard to Ashby), 18th Jan 2012, 6.02 am:
Local elections 31 March across QLD. :)
Message # 12962 (Ashby to Tania Hubbard):
Very good, it's finally confirmed �� great to catch up last night. James
Message # 12963 (Tania Hubbard to Ashby):
We have also learned that at this dinner there were seven friends of Ashby, with at least four of them being in touch with him during this saga by text.
Sources allege a buoyant Ashby showed text messages from Slipper to guests at this party. Whether or not this is so, it is clear that Ashby did in fact tell his friend Martin "FBI" (food and beverage industry) Duncan all the gossip from Canberra.
January 20 was an auspicious day in terms of the disgusting texts, but one wonders at the texts which have been left out. A series of texts when Slipper calls Ashby a c**t twice are interspersed with Ashby saying "Hahahaha" and then:
"You love it but ��".
Don't forget, this is the period when Ashby has alleged he was being most grievously sexually harassed.
Messages 12996 to 12998 are missing from the affidavit (why are they missing?) so the full context of this exchange is not known.
On the press front, Ashby and Karen Doane, are trying to raise the “good” profile of Peter Slipper with the Sunshine Coast Daily and they have a meeting with Mark Furler, the editor of that paper.
More astounding messages follow on 23 January:
The next couple of texts message pages are taken up with keeping up to date about the Andrew Wilkie story, its effects on the Federal Government and what Slipper has said to radio stations in Queensland.
One text reinforces Ashby’s loyalty to Slipper.
On Australia Day, 26 Jan 2012 there was a big shemozzle in Canberra at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. Martin FBI texts Ashby and wants to know if he was on duty. Meanwhile, Ashby is working behind the scenes for Mark McArdle, posting McArdle's Australia Day address on Facebook and making it look like it wasn’t posted there by McArdle.
February 1 seems to be a day when the texts change in character. Ashby advises Slipper not to do an interview with a lady named Cathy about social media. Slipper doesn’t take the advice and Tim Knapp says to Ashby, via text, that sometimes Slipper is headstrong.
Ashby has a hissy fit about his advice being ignored; Slipper advises him to relax and adds an "x".
A series of text messages pass between Slipper and Ashby that evening, some of which appear to indicate Slipper may have had a lot to drink. Ashby rejects being closer and Slipper then goes onto say that, in future, all communications should be through Tim Knapp.
The next morning, at 5.40am, Slipper says that his request of communications through Tim Knapp was just a joke.
Something is broken here! The texts are normally within seconds if not minutes of each other. Here, though, it has taken Ashby two hours to respond.
At 11.00am Ashby send the following to McArdle:
(Note the comments to the right of this message are made by Ashby’s solicitors.)
So, a clandestine meeting with McArdle — to discuss what? I think I know, but I can’t say for sure.
Later that evening, the following text comes through from Karen Doane:
Message #1836 (Doane to Ashby) 2 February 2012 at 5.00 pm:
Thx for the chat.... Wait, what did we talk about �� have a good night
Message #1837 (Ashby to Doane), 2 February 2012 at 5.00 pm:
And what was discussed in that meeting?
The next morning, 3 Feb 2012 at 8.41 am, comes message # 13475 (Ashby to McArdle):
Any thoughts overnight?
Message # 13476 is missing from the affidavit. Hmmm...
Message # 13477, 13478 and 13479 to Inge Slipper, Peter Slipper and Tim Knapp say the following
Be on high media alert these next couple of days guys. Avoid any questions / photos taking cabs or com cars. Andrew Bolt has been hard at work creating a shit storm. the sad part is they'll all follow suit once the Australian and sunshine coast daily release their stories tomorrow.
The following texts are about the Bolt story and Slipper seems calm about it. He also asks Ashby to not send things through to his wife as she worries.
Ashby tells Slipper that he is having dinner with Martin (FBI) Duncan from Freestyle Escape.
Message #13491 (Slipper to Ashby) 3February 2012 at 6.53 pm:
Ashby doesn’t answer, but a message from Martin FBI comes in at 12.07 am on 4 February:
Message #13494 (Martin Duncan to Ashby):
Ah home sweet home thanks for lovely night warm regards Martin
(Note: the comments to the right of this message are made by Ashby’s solicitors.)
Ashby has worked for Slipper for 44 days (including weekends and public holidays) and he is obviously not happy.
I believe that by this time he has made up his mind to bring Peter Slipper down. It is certain that Peter Slipper has a text persona which uses innuendo, suggestion and foul language. But does that really piss off Ashby? The answers to Slipper's texts suggest that it doesn’t — but we don’t know for sure.
The meeting with McArdle seemed to be a tipping point — but he had always kept in touch with him, especially after his first week in Canberra.
He also has discussed the issues with Martin Duncan and, allegedly, also with his other friends at the 17 January dinner party.
Act Three ends with high suspense.
At 12.44 on 4 February 2012, Ashby texts Paul Nagle:
So, Ashby has discussed Peter Slipper's texts with Mark McArdle, Martin Duncan, the group at the dinner party and Paul Nagle ... that we know of.
Who have they discussed Slipper with? Has some information filtered back to Canberra? Perhaps somehow, by unexpected means, even to Christopher Pyne?
Act Four moves the saga along to its climatic court appearances — from discussion to action and more intrigue.
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