Vince O’Grady continues his groundbreaking series which, for the first time, lays out a coherent Ashbygate narrative, while revealing vital new information.
THE SCENE opens again in late September 2011, with James Hunter Ashby returning to the Sunshine Coast from his overseas sojourn. We pick up the narrative again from his phone text message file, as found in the Supreme Court documents in the case between Ashby and his former employer Peter Slipper.
[Read ‘The tragedy of Ashby and Slipper’ Act One | Act Three | Act Four | Act Five.]
On 29 September 2011, Ashby sends a text message to Mark McArdle about the Queensland Ambulance levy and how Labor changes to it are a set up for a potential LNP Government.
Slipper’s next text with Ashby, on 1 October, is about the delivery of strawberries as apparently he likes to preserve them. Ashby says “no probs mate” and that he will deliver them on Wednesday (5 October).
Slipper also says that he has a jar of Pete’s Indian strawberry chutney for him (Ashby) and also one for “Len” (Len Smith, the owner of Gowinta Farms). Later texts reveal Ashby didn’t pass on the gift but used it on his own steak sandwiches.
Ashby and Slipper met for coffee at Gowinta Farms at 2pm on 5 October 2011; later, in the evening, Ashby goes to the Slipper’s house for dinner.
Ashby then undertakes to help Slipper with his political stoush against Mal Brough and, on 10 October 2011, we can see the following texts between Ashby and Slipper:
Message #10056 (Ashby to Slipper):
That Mal video is up. It just muddies the water and I'm pleased you're learning to play the game on a social media front. I thought you'd given up the fight but it's good to see u still have some prick left in u hahahaha
(Some may see the use of the word “prick” here as quite suggestive.)
Message #10057 (Slipper to Ashby):
No shortage of that I'm afraid
Message #10062 (Slipper to Ashby):
Will you put the you tubes up under different names?
Message #10063 is a text to “Connie Ashby” (possibly Ashby's mother).
Message # 10064 (Ashby to Slipper):
Yeah it's under username "PoliticalRace". We'll just put a number of news stories on it so it's not seen to be an anti-Mal page.
Message #10065 (Slipper to Ashby):
Message #10066 (Ashby to Slipper):
Do politicians have the ability to use asio or any legal avenue to find out who's behind web pages or YouTube channels? I just don't want to be linked back to if this becomes a shit fight.
(ASIO and back door legal channels? Who’s writing this script?)
Message #10067 (Slipper to Ashby):
Politicians don't have any more rights than others and in any event brough is not a politician.
Message #10068 (Ashby to Slipper):
I know but he still has contacts within the political world. He's begun playing the game. U need to find a way of discrediting Saturday's report. No quote of commitment from Clive palmer. It's all just 'Mal' say. Did any journalist think to see if what they were being fed was accurate?
Message #10069 (Slipper to Ashby):
I still think the answers to your questions are no
Message #10070 (Ashby to Slipper):
Messages #10071 to 10073 are missing from the annexure to the affidavit.
Message #10074 (Slipper to Ashby):
Brough is a c**t!
Message #10075 (Ashby to Slipper):
U make me laugh.
Message #10076 (Slipper to Ashby):
How so sir?
Message #10077 (Ashby to Slipper):
By telling it how it is. But no pollie tells how it is to the public. Everyone is so bloody scared of the civil libs and the vocal minority.
Message #10078 (Slipper to Ashby):
Fully how we say that a person is a c**t when many guys like c**ts!;)
Message #10079 (Ashby to Slipper):
Message #10080 (Slipper to Ashby):
They look like a mussell removed from its shell. Look at a bottle of mussel meat! Salty C**ts in brine!
Message #10081 (Ashby to Slipper):
So tell me, do u want to run again or do u want to step up to speaker of the house and not bother with pre selection. I wanna know how much fight u have in u and whether I put my tactical brain into action to see u give Mal a carving up.
(Very emotive language and rather suggestive of a person given to plotting brutal political assassinations.)
Message #10082 (Ashby to Slipper):
Message #10083 (Slipper to Ashby):
What's too personal? Throwing stones?
Message #10084 (Ashby to Slipper):
Throwing stones? No the question about running for pre selection
Message #10085 (Slipper to Ashby):
Range of options open. But destroying Brough should happen anyway. Where did you get the idea I could become Speaker?
(Yes, where did Ashby get the idea Peter Slipper could become Speaker?)
Message #10086 (Ashby to Slipper):
A tactical thought that would allow u to remain in parliament without having to have a seat. Means that u don't have to battle shit fight with Mal. SCD would still have a front page story for a week, but it would be a finger in the air to them, brough and anyone else who might want to c u go. Just a thought...
Message #10087 (Slipper to Ashby):
No the speaker has to have a seat to be speaker
I have used the texts in this conversation on 10 October 2011 to show the interaction between Ashby and Slipper.
They are discussing the campaign against Mal Brough and the foul language in the texts is used by both men, though rather more by Ashby and the sexually suggestive language also seems to come mostly from Ashby.
It ranges across several topics and even includes a suggestion by Ashby that if Peter Slipper became Speaker, he would not need to have an electorate — indicating Ashby’s grasp of the Australian Parliamentary system is rudimentary at best.
He claims to have a cunning and vicious tactical brain and to be a whiz on social media, yet from my examination of Ashby’s YouTube postings he merely seems to copy and paste news items. None of them are well patronised. In fact, some of the items he has posted recently (in the last two months) about his friend and the Queensland State Government minister for water and energy, Mark McArdle are, in fact, extremely negative against McArdle.
The text messages between Slipper and Ashby on 11 October show Ashby’s ambition to enter politics and they have a discussion about his ‘honesty’. Slipper alludes to his sexuality and warns that it’s an issue which needs to be handled strategically if Ashby intends to run for political office.
This sequence of texts ends with:
Message 10199 (Ashby to Slipper):
Yeah I have no doubt. I'll think you'll be a great help into my future if your willing to share the knowledge.
On the same day, Ashby and McArdle are busy texting each other and Ashby is asking McArdle and his wife to come over for dinner. Of course, Mark McArdle's wife, Judy, used to work for Peter Slipper in his electorate office — so perhaps he has been using McArdle’s “knowledge” as well.
Meanwhile, in Canberra…
On 11 October 2011, as deputy speaker, Peter Slipper ejected Sophie Mirabella from the House, and the Ashby and Slipper texts for the following day contain details of a story about Mal Brough in VEX News and a discussion of the ejection of Mirabella.
Message #10249 (Ashby to Slipper):
Yes i agree she did push it too far. But did she do it because you're mates or she's just an ignorant botch?
Message #10250 (Slipper to Ashby):
Bright though she loses the plot! Perhaps as you say "an ignorant botch"
As you can see from this exchange, it is in fact Ashby is the one who called Sophie Mirabella, a “botch” — something missed by the mainstream media in its relief and exhilaration in finally being able to claim Slipper’s long sought-after scalp. In fact, the exchange reveals Slipper as seeing himself as discharging his duty as deputy speaker to an unruly member, without fear or political favour. In fact, he even praises Mirabella as being “bright”.
Later, back on the Sunshine Coast, Cinders hasn’t gone to the Ball...
On 14 October, Peter Slipper and Andrew "Suncorp" [Ed: IA expects to be able to reveal this character's real name in Act 3] were at the AGL Helicopter Ball; Ashby had been invited but had declined.
There is an interesting three-way text conversation between Ashby (at home), Andrew Suncorp, his insurance agent (at the Ball) and Peter Slipper (also at the Ball). Andrew Suncorp and Peter Slipper had met at Gowinta Farms on 5th October. A series of 53 texts between Slipper and Ashby and between Ashby and Andrew Suncorp ensued, where Ashby was telling Andrew what Slipper was asking about him and their relationship. At the end of this series of texts, Ashby and Slipper agreed to meet over the weekend at Ashby’s for a BBQ. Slipper was to bring one of his homemade dips.
On the 15 October 2011, Slipper contacts Ashby about a job.
Message #10474 (Slipper to Ashby):
What time? Say 6.30? Hypothetically were Richards job to become available, would you have any interest?
The person referred to here is Richard Bruinsma — Peter Slipper’s long term press advisor. He had been with Peter Slipper for 6 years when he finally resigned at the beginning of November, 2011. The job paid $82,766 per annum, according to the Sunshine Coast Daily.
At 12.30pm the next day (16th Oct), and after the BBQ, Ashby texts Andrew Suncorp.
Message # 10514 (Ashby to Andrew Suncorp):
Had the official job offer tonight. $90 + phone + around 80 nights in Canberra at an additional $160 a night I'm away. Very tempting!!! I just do t know if he can get up at the next election. The election according to Peter won't be until sept 2013. He also says he'll place me in another politicians office as media advisor if he's unsuccessful. I'm going to have to do some talking to Mark McArdle I think. Mark and Peter hate each other but at least he'll be honest with me. Hows the night been? Not too drunk that you'll be out of action in the morning?
Later that day, Ashby went flying with his friend Andrew. Ashby is, apparently, a qualified pilot.
Once again, there are a lot of text messages between Ashby and Slipper and in one he introduces a new contact, Peta Simpson who is an LNP colleague and a friend of Ashby’s. She owns a business on the Sunshine Coast, which involves recruitment consultancy. Ashby has made a lot of videos for her and placed them on YouTube. She is asking him for assistance (through Slipper) with a friend who is about to be deported by the Immigration Department.
Later that day, after the flight, and after Andrew has left for Brisbane, James Ashby is busy on the texts again. This text introduces a new person to the drama — someone called Val (Val Bradford — a local Sunshine Coast hinterland LNP branch heavy.)
Thanks for a great weekend. I really enjoyed today. Had a conversation with Val this afternoon before my little sleep and she said it would be suicide if i went and worked for Peter. She also said there's a strong chance he may go independent which is a scary thought cause the party could disown anyone associated with him. I think the extra money wouldn't be worth it right now. Val thinks it'll ruin all chances of running in the next elections which isn't what I want. God this politics within politics is tough to understand at times.... How's dinner?
Once again, the text highlights the close relationship Ashby has with McArdle. It also highlights his raw ambition to become a politician at a later date, though it wouldn’t “be worth it right now.” The competing ambitions of power, money and political patience.
On 17th October 2011, Ashby sends Slipper an email which is taken verbatim from page 49 and 50 of the Annexure (there are 265 pages in all).
After a great deal of consideration regarding the position within your office, I have decided that I won't be able to accept for a number of reasons which I'm sure you'll understand.
I'm flattered to think you'd ask me firstly, given the importance the role carries. While you and other party members know my thoughts on entering the political scene in years to come, it's also important I have a greater understanding of the public sector, especially that of the agricultural industry I'm currently working in. I have a great deal of respect for Leonard who owns Gowinta, and for the past 16 months here on the farm, I've been given opportunities to sink my teeth into projects which have given me the pleasure of forming strong relationships with the likes of yourself and the rest of the party.
I have a number of projects which have just passed through Council that require further planning and action to ensure their success. The farm is going through a growth spurt that will ensure its long term future with Golden Circle and the Fresh Food Market and will also secure significant job numbers across the coast. The Caravan Park and Commercial properties have a solid 12 months work ahead of them to ensure their patronage and sale.
I have no doubt the position you offer has long term security, however the commitment to Leonard and his families business is something I haven't taken lightly and I think it's one of the attributes you recognise and like.
The friendship you and Inge have offered me over such a short period of time is amazing. You continue to allow me to learn about the political arena while showing a personable side to yourself, most others don't get the privilege to see.
I will continue to assist you with my thoughts and what other help I can bring to the table with your campaigning into the future with the LNP. I also trust that you find someone with the same level of commitment you need and deserve.
It's one thing I've discovered in the last 6 months, trust is imperative to any political office. If you don't have the support and trust of your team, you're screwed!
I'll also have a chat to you, however I wanted to make sure my points in making this decision were covered off 100%.
James Ashby - Marketing & PR Manager
I just want to highlight one part of this email:
“It's one thing I've discovered in the last 6 months, trust is imperative to any political office. If you don't have the support and trust of your team, you're screwed!”
Prophetic words, as it turned out.
The plot thickened further as they worked on an advertisement for the job of media advisor.
Meanwhile, Peter Slipper met Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip.
The texts between Ashby and Slipper flew thick and fast over this event.
Of particular importance was the text sequence on 22 October 2011, after Ashby congratulated Slipper on meeting the Queen, saying he was lucky.
Message #10896 (Slipper to Ashby):
Yes very lucky indeed!
Message # 10897 (Slipper to Ashby):
Even got to kiss the PM!
Message # 10898 (Ashby to Sipper):
You suck! U just want the speakers role lol
During all of this time, Peter Slipper seems very interested in the relationship Ashby has with Andrew Suncorp, who Slipper nicknamed Bill – as he apparently reminded him of Bill Clinton. He is always asking Ashby about him by text.
Some of the texts use very forthright language, but Ashby keeps coming back for more of the same. He also deflects Slippers enquiries quite easily and is forthright about what is personal and what is not. Bear in mind, this was before Ashby was working for Slipper.
On 28 October, Slipper asks Ashby if he is offended (by his rude texts about losing his “maidenhood” or his “virtual hymen”) and Ashby replies in Message # 11248 (Ashby to Slipper):
No not offended. I don't offend that easy
Numerous text messages about Brough and other domestic type issues occupy the script for the next messages. Ashby is then invited to Canberra by Slipper to attend the Coalition Christmas party, on 23 November 2011. He accepts. Rhys Reynolds, another LNP member and then Council election aspirant, has also been invited. Slipper says they will have to share a room at his house.
As Ashby’s relationship with Andrew Suncorp progresses, there are several enquiries as to its progress by Slipper. Ashby gives Slipper Andrew’s phone number and they seem to be having some fun with each other at Slipper’s expense.
Ashby has to pull out of the Canberra trip on 23 November because of work commitments.
During this time, he is also working on organising an LNP event for Mark McArdle (held on 17 October 2011) at Gowinta farms. Ashby also is the go-between for a donation to Mark McArdle of $1,000 by Len Smith of Gowinta farms.
The next scene commences on 21 November, when Karen L Doane is appointed as Slipper’s new press adviser.
Meanwhile, Peter Slipper was hosting Kevin Rudd as a guest to the Sunshine Coast. At the same time, another former PM, John Howard, was also visiting the Sunshine Coast. This caused a political furore amongst the LNP faithful and gave lots of ammunition for Mal Brough against Slipper.
However, this was nothing to the storm that was about to descend on the Sunshine Coast and the Electorate of Fisher.
On 24 November 2011, Peter Slipper accepted the Speakership of the House of Representatives after Harry Jenkins suddenly resigned from the job.
On 25 November, the Sunshine Coast Daily printed this article (emphasis mine):
IT WAS a case of the gate being closed after the horse had bolted.
The LNP executive met yesterday afternoon to consider a series of complaints against the Member for Fisher, Peter Slipper, after his decision to accept the Speaker's position in the Federal Parliament.
In his acceptance speech for the role in Parliament earlier in the afternoon, Mr Slipper said he would quit the LNP and sit as an independent on the cross benches.
And in a statement yesterday, the LNP executive alleged it had received information that Mr Slipper had disclosed to a third party that "he was intending to resign from the Party during the forthcoming state election campaign to purposely create a serious distraction for his state colleagues".
"Further evidence presented to the Party confirmed that Mr Slipper had been planning for some time to leave the LNP."
Who was this third party?
The first text Ashby sent regarding Slipper’s new job on 24 November was to his mate Andrew Suncorp; the second, at 12.54pm, was congratulations to Slipper.
True to form, Ashby then has a conversation with his Media friend Simon Ward from WIN TV and they discuss the LNP reaction.
Messages 12058 to 12060 are missing from the affidavit.
Message #12061 (Ashby to Simon Ward):
Just sent u a jpg of a paper clipping that Mal brough ran in courier mail when Wyatt roy ran for the seat of longman for the LNP.
Message # 12062 (Simon Ward to Ashby):
Thanks mate. Will follow tomorrow. Mal had a press conf planned with Bruce for this arvo. But they have just cancelled it. Hmmm
Message # 12063 (Ashby to Simon Ward):
Apparently last night in the LNP meeting they planned to expell Somalay and not Slipper. This has come from a creditable source
Bruce McIveris thePresident of the Queensland LNP. Alex Somylayis the member for Fairfax, the adjacent electorate to Fisher. There is no love lost between Slipper and Somylay; in fact, in September 2011 Somylay took a petition to oust Slipper from his seat initiated by Somylay’s ally, the political activist/editor of the Sunshine Coast Daily, Mark Furler:
However, the messages between Ward and Ashby appear to contradict the information printed in the Sunshine Coast Daily about the LNP having advance knowledge of Slipper’s plans.
The plot is murkier than pea soup.
In any case, Slipper resigns from the LNP. He confirms this to Ashby.
On 28 November, IA managing editor David Donovan wrote the following:
“The Australian people do not like the sort of kind of sordid, squalid, toxic deals that they saw in the parliament this week,” Mr Abbott told the NSW Liberal Party State Council AGM in Sydney on Saturday.
It should be noted that Peter Slipper resigned from the LNP, not just to become Speaker, but because he had absolutely no future in the LNP; indeed, the Libs had moved to install Mal Brough in his seat. In fact, just over a week ago they had gone to the lengths of putting on an event to introduce Brough to Slipper’s Sunshine Coast electorate — even bringing up John Howard to launch Brough’s unofficial campaign.
Showing an astonishing lack of human empathy and tactical insight, Liberal apparatchiks were then described as “livid” that Slipper decided to avoid this event – this advance funeral for his political career – in favour of escorting another former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd – who unlike John Howard is a local boy and a hero in the area – around his electorate.
Tony Windsor found it difficult to keep a straight face at a press conference held after hearing the news that Slipper had defected.
He described the brutal treatment the Libs had meted on Slipper:
“What has really surprised me … is this enormous campaign to eradicate him so that Mal Brough can get back in,” Mr Windsor said.
“They kicked him and kicked him and kicked him and kicked him,” he said.
“They kicked this guy to death and then wonder why he dies … extraordinary.”
Ashby, meanwhile, keeps his aspirational political irons in the fire, on 1 Dec 2011, texting McArdle about an opening he has heard about in the Div 2 Council Election. McArdle agrees to phone him.
Immediately after this he sends the following text to his mate Andrew Suncorp.
Message #714 on 3rd December 2012 (Ashby to Andrew Suncorp):
Ok are u ready for the kicker? Peter slipper called me last night to discuss coming to work for him again. This time the offer was $138,000 + $280 a night in Canberra. Can u believe this!!!! It's a $155,500 package all up. I honestly think this is too good to be true to pass up!
Later that month, Ashby begins work for Peter Slipper.
He goes to work for him despite Peter Slipper sending him what Ashby later described, in court documents, as “sexually suggestive” text messages. Only a few weeks after becoming employed, he claims to be sexually harassed by Slipper – despite Slipper never having touched him – but because Slipper had carried on with the same sort of banter they’d enjoyed previously.
Ashby alleges Slipper’s conduct stressed him, despite claiming in his texts here, that he “don’t [sic] offend that easy”.
Most perplexingly, he becomes an employee of Slipper after his new employer is described and depicted as a “King Rat” by the press and his former party colleagues for defecting and becoming Speaker.
Ashby takes the job despite being an LNP member and having clear political aspirations with the LNP and close relations with many figures in the LNP, including Mark McArdle.
The whole thing doesn’t add up — or at least not to the story Ashby alleges, but rather something seedier and far more sinister.
In Act 3, just like any good tragicomedy, the villain becomes the friend and the good guy becomes the object of pure venom. Documents change hands and senior Liberals duck and weave; some even tell lies, or is it only the partial truth? Best of all, hypocrites are outed and the stage is set for a showstopping climax.
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