Associate Professor Phillips provided what he described as a “caveat” to his report. “The applicant on several occasions joined in a text conversation with the Speaker which was somewhat provocative and sexualised … I believe that it has to be said that at least at certain times the applicant added to the frission of the interchange.”
Since the Ashby saga blew up, there have been multiple reports about his conduct that have demonstrated that he’s certainly no stereotypical victim of sexual harassment. Far from being Peter Slipper’s victim, it is clear that Peter Slipper is his victim. The victim of a well-orchestrated, deviously cunning, cynical political assassination that has used and misused legal process to achieve political ends.
While others can be political cheer-leaders about this issue, we think it’s easy to find fault on both sides, including the Labor government’s atrocious handling of the matter.
There’s a highly curious report in The Australian with suggestions that public servants or lawyers engaged by the Commonwealth paid James Ashby $50,000 taxpayer dollars without the consent of elected officials:
Ms Roxon made the request to Mr Burnside after becoming furious about the speed and terms of the settlement that the Australian Government Solicitor’s office and Mr Burnside negotiated. Last night, Mr Burnside said he “could not comment on anything to do with the case”.
The commonwealth’s initial offer of $50,000 was unexpectedly and immediately accepted by Mr Ashby’s lawyers, Harmer’s Workplace Lawyers, infuriating Ms Roxon, who had not been made aware that a final settlement had been reached.
We don’t know what the Attorney knew and when she knew it but cutting this bloke Ashby a cheque in circumstances where his behaviour – as described by his own paid psychiatric expert (wheeled in to help make his case stand) and by many other published reports – is not consistent with the victim he initially attempted to represent himself to be seems very wrong to us.
In our opinion, it is an obscene waste of taxpayer money to give James Ashby any money, even a token amount. It gives the gutter-snipe a moral victory he clearly, on the evidence and published reports, does not deserve. It also leaves Speaker Slipper defending the claims against him on his own.
It’s politically incomprehensible to leave the Speaker defending litigation against an unknown – and potentially unlimited – litigation funder who is behind James Ashby’s highly expensive legal action. While he has got $50,000 of taxpayers’ money, Ashby’s legal expenses have been estimated to exceed $500,000. He is clearly not funding it himself and has refused to say who is other than generally denying receiving “external” monies. The Commonwealth says it spent $700,000. It’s been a lawyer’s picnic.
The motives of those behind Ashby’s litigation are – based on all that – clearly not financial. At best, even assuming Ashby wins, a costs order against Slipper would not cover anything like the amount Ashby’s backers have spent. In the absence of a financial motive, we’re left speculating about political motives.
We have been surprised to discover that the taxpayers haven’t been picking up Peter Slipper’s legal bills, which reportedly run into hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is particularly surprising as Slipper didn’t ever employ Ashby directly, the Commonwealth employed him, as a government employee, using taxpayer funds. It strikes us as an absurd situation that the federal government leaves individuals like MPs to pay for legal expenses of this kind. No senior public servant would ever be left in this position, Canberra’s Sir Humphey Appleby’s would choke on their soy latte at the suggestion. But politicians, it seems, are to be cut loose and left to fend for themselves about a matter that – ultimately is about the employment of a government employee who just happens to work with an MP.
This matter has been handled dreadfully. And whatever the rights or wrongs of it, a dangerous precedent has been set that makes any elected official vulnerable to spurious, smutty allegations, made by disgruntled staff, funded by those with a political axe to grind. Because the government hasn’t picked up the tab, the precedent has been set that would have any MP not in a position to finance hundreds of thousands of dollars in legals squeezed out of office, using any manner of variations on the Ashby ploy.
Some of the loudest folk condemning Peter Slipper’s unfortunate text messages – which are off-colour in part but not necessarily proof of sexual harassment at all – should take a careful look at what they email and text around themselves. There but for the grace of God go them.
UPDATE: Sources tell VEXNEWS that the number Ashby’s lawyers cited in discussions with the Commonwealth as having been expended on legal costs is $1.2 million. Even allowing for traditional padding, that’s a huge amount for anyone to fund.