A blatant stitch-up fuelled by cynicism and hate
The indulgent and now shattered lifestyle of Peter Slipper has been a political battleground since he accepted the Labor minority government’s support to become Speaker just over 12 months ago.
And today a Federal Court judge confirmed that.
Judge Steven Rares, appointed to the court by then Liberal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock in 2006, dismissed court action against Mr Slipper on sexual harassment claims, branding it an abuse of process.
It should be noted that there has been no court examination of whether former Slipper staffer James Ashby, the complainant, was sexually harassed. But it is clear the court believes the prime motivation for the action was political.
It is not common for a court to reject an action. The fact it has happened in such of a sensitive matter underlines the gravity of the decision.
Certainly the Labor Government believes that Liberal figures were assisting and encouraging this action as a political campaign to bring down Mr Slipper and to associate the Gillard Government with allegations against him.
The broad basis for Operation Slipper was that the disruption of Parliament by scandal would be seen by voters as a Government failure.
As Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said in April, linking the Government to two controversial MPs: “It becomes increasingly clear with each passing day that the fate of the Gillard Government rests entirely on two members of Parliament—Peter Slipper and Craig Thomson.”
The Federal Court ruling will be portrayed by the Government as a dramatic exposure of that strategy and cynical motivations behind it.
Labor’s focus will now be on two senior Liberal figures, one of them being shadow attorney-general George Brandis SC, a Queenslander like Mr Slipper.
In mid-October Senator Brandis told a parliamentary committee there was no chance the Ashby action would be dismissed in the way it has been.
“I looked at this material earlier this week, and I would not have advised a client of mine in a million years that they had any chance of success at all of getting summary judgement on this material,” he said referring to hypothetical advice he might give Mr Slipper.
He further said: “There is no way in the world that any court would summarily determine those proceedings.” But that’s what the court did.
The other will be former Howard government minister Mal Brough who next election will contest Mr Slipper’s Queensland coastal seat of Fisher.
Mr Brough at first declined to acknowledge his help for Mr Ashby when questioned by a reporter. He later outlined extensive contacts with and advice for Mr Ashby, who then proceeded with an expensive and highly visible legal attack on Mr Slipper. Documents lodged with the Federal Court show that contact was frequent and included emails and text messages.
Mr Brough will be the Liberal National Party candidate next election in the Queensland seat of Fisher, now held by Peter Slipper.
One teasingly unanswered question after today’s court decision is what happens about the $50,000 payment the Commonwealth made to settle its action with Mr Ashby?
The money was paid in September in what Senator Brandis called a major backdown by the Government.
The Government replied it was a cost effective way of ending the dispute, which could have dragged on and become hugely expensive. It stood by claims it considered the allegations were vexatious.
Meanwhile, outside the debate among senior counsel and judges, there is Labor anger that while Peter Slipper might not be an unambiguous adornment of the Parliament, he is no more or less what he was when he sat with the Coalition for more than a decade.
The Opposition’s sudden decision that Mr Slipper was unworthy to be an MP really galls Labor MPs and is fuelling the bid for revenge.
“What I did know is that the Liberal and/or National Party had endorsed him at nine consecutive elections. What I did know is that Tony Abbott relied upon Peter Slipper for the one vote that he won the leadership of the Liberal Party by and that he is only Leader of the Liberal Party as a result of Peter Slipper’s support,” Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said last April.
“What I did know is that Peter Slipper made that support for Tony Abbott very public. What I did know is that Tony Abbott attended Peter Slipper’s wedding, therefore indicating a certain comfortable and relaxed nature to the relationship between Mr Abbott and Mr Slipper.
“So I think it’s a bit rich, frankly, for Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne or other members of the Coalition to say now that they knew a whole lot of information, which Mr Abbott has said.”
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