Just as the member for Blair said when speaking on this appropriations debate he was going to speak widely and wisely, so am I.
I am going to reflect on some expenditure that I will not say was deliberately misspent, but I do not think these monies were spent wisely by the Australian Federal Police, by the Department of Finance and by the courts. Some of the things I say will be unpopular, particularly with members of the government, but they have to be said.
- David Marr in his piece for the Guardian explains,”With the result of a federal court appeal on the way and online activists eager to fund further investigation we have not heard the last of the plot against Peter Slipper”. Ashbygate: the great disappearing scandal about to roar back into life
- Please see, double Standards: Abbott allowed to repay $9400, Slipper charged for $900!
- Follow link to read the Federal Court judgement ordering Ashby to pay costs of the Commonwealth
THE HON MICHAEL DANBY MP
SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION,
SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR THE ARTS
MEMBER FOR MELBOURNE PORTS
M. Danby (Melbourne Ports) (19:54): Just as the member for Blair said when speaking on this appropriations debate he was going to speak widely and wisely, so am I. I am going to reflect on some expenditure that I will not say was deliberately misspent, but I do not think these monies were spent wisely by the Australian Federal Police, by the Department of Finance and by the courts. Some of the things I say will be unpopular, particularly with members of the government, but they have to be said.
In the ACT Supreme Court, on 25 February, Judge John Burns exonerated the former Speaker of this parliament. He said, quite rightly, that having lunch with staff could be considered parliamentary duties, given the definition was so wide. The failure to apply to former Speaker Slipper the Minchin protocols by which all of us in this place are able to repay taxi fares or travel expenses that are undertaken mistakenly or not properly notified is something that led to a whole series of misallocation of resources. These included the cost of Slipper’s prosecution by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions over this $954. Defending himself which cost him more than $150,000 personally. These events cost him his reputation, and his marriage, and nearly cost him his life and his mental health. And it cost the Commonwealth, in its various manifestations, at least $400,000 to $500,000 to get one member’s taxi receipts. Was this a wise expenditure of public money?
When Peter Slipper accepted the speakership he insisted that he would not be party to maintaining Labor in office. He felt that the Labor government was going to stay in office whether he accepted the speakership or not. Slipper being made Speaker, of course, made it a little easier for Labor on the floor of the House, but the Labor government was able to survive when Mr Jenkins was Speaker before Slipper and with Ms Burke after Slipper. He was a very good Speaker. I remember, to the surprise of the coalition, he sat then Treasurer Wayne Swan down in his seat. There was praise for him in the media at the time as a person who knew the procedures and the rules. There was an article by Geoff Kitney in the Financial Review which was typical of this.
Also related to this miss-spending, in my view, of public moneys was the Federal Court’s refusal on 9 February 2015 for Mr Ashby’s applications for costs in this case. These costs are estimated at $3 million. The Federal Court added the Commonwealth’s costs to Ashby’s costs and his lawyer’s costs. The Federal Court’s judgement made clear that Ashby’s sexual harassment claims were never vindicated, as he had claimed subsequent to the judgment of Justice Rares being invalidated by the Federal Court. When Ashby withdrew the sexual harassment case, on 14 June, he stated that he believed the Federal Court’s decision to grant an appeal had indirectly suggested harassment had, in fact, occurred. The Federal Court judgement makes it explicitly clear that that was not the case. The final paragraph of its finding says:
But for the discontinuance of his claim, Ashby may well have been tested about why the primary proceeding was instituted in the terms it first appeared, and on a range of matters raised by Slipper arising in his summary dismissal application and in his defence of the claim.
It is true the Federal Court made a two-to-one decision to overturn Justice Rares, giving Ashby the benefit of the doubt for reasons of procedural fairness. They wanted to let him proceed with this case even though Justice Rares had made a very strong judgement against them.
Remember, these were allegations that transfixed Australia. They led to 12 front pages in The Daily Telegraph, including the former speaker being portrayed as a rat with drawings all around him. Lady Di only got nine front pages. Justice Rares, who examined the case most comprehensively, said it was an abuse of process. The judge skewered Mr Ashby’s solicitors, Harmers, for a strategy that was designed to:
… to expose Mr Slipper to the maximum degree of vilification, opprobrium, sensation and scandal and to cause maximum damage to his reputation to the political advantage of the LNP and Mr Brough.
Mr Brough being his opponent in the electorate.
Harmers are an important solicitor for all of us members of parliament to remember because what happened to Slipper could happen to any of us. Sensational public allegations could be used by legal firms on a no win, no fee basis, as they did in the David Jones case, which is probably the reason Harmers were brought into this case against Slipper. This is a very dangerous precedent, a slippery slope. Legal firms interfering in the political process like this could, as I say, happen to any of us and to people more popular than the then Speaker.
Rares found the claim made by Ashby was an abuse of process. Judge Rares said:
… Ashby’s predominant purpose for bringing these proceedings was to pursue a political attack against Mr Slipper and not to vindicate any legal claim he may have for which the right to bring proceedings exists.
He stole his employer’s diary. I wonder if Mr Katter, who is in the chamber, would like one of his staff to steal his diary and give it to The Daily Telegraph. It is an absolutely unethical thing for any employee to do. To introduce the 2003 allegations about a sexual relationship and assertions about Cabcharges ‘had no legitimate forensic purpose’, the judge said.
They were not included in the originating application to advance any bona fide cause of action that Mr Ashby … had against … the Commonwealth or Mr Slipper. The effect of their inclusion and, I find, the purpose … was to further damage Mr Slipper in the public eye and politically and to attract to him significant adverse publicity …
After dropping his allegations in midyear 2014, Ashby appeared on 60 Minutes. It was recently re-shown, in January. On that program, he claims to have been induced by Liberal MPs, prominent members of the government now, into making his sordid claims. What he told 60 Minutes about these alleged inducements directly contradicts what he put on oath in a sworn affidavit to the justices who overturned, in a 2-1 judgement, Rares’s judgement. I wonder, if the judges had seen what Ashby said on 60 Minutes, whether they would have indeed overturned Rares’s forensic view of Ashby’s activities. I am sure they would not have.
Accordingly, after the program, I wrote to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, inviting him to investigate whether perjury had occurred and whether the appeal judges were misled by the affidavit. At the very least, Ashby’s claim of inducements, made on national television twice now, in July and January, should have been available to the appeal judges when they reviewed Rares’s judgement. Perhaps millions of dollars spent chasing Slipper’s $900 taxi fares—the millions of dollars spent by the Department of Finance and the AFP and in the courts—might never have had to have been contemplated if we had known this in the beginning. Regarding these Cabcharge fares, it was silly to go beyond the boundaries of Canberra for lunch with staff, but they were still ultimately found by a judge to be possibly ‘parliamentary business’. If we had known that, as Mr Ashby now claims on television, he was offered inducements, the judgement of Judge Rares would have been clearly vindicated.
I am reluctant to believe anything that Ashby says, even if is politically convenient for my side of politics or me personally to believe. If he told the truth, however, to 60 Minutes, there is a powerful message to all MPs from this: the politics of personal destruction, even for a member as unpopular as Peter Slipper, engineered by the member for Warringah and the member for Sturt and carried through with the obscenely expensive royal commissions that they have now launched into prime ministers Rudd and Gillard, has no proper place in Australian public life. The admission by Mr Brough, the current member for Fisher, Mr Slipper’s electorate, on 60 Minutes that he had directed a G Gordon Liddy style black-ops misappropriation of the Speaker’s confidential diary is one that the Prime Minister has already reasons to carefully consider. The old warning ‘Be careful what you become in pursuit of what you want’ should be ringing in the ears of members of the government after this disturbing 60 Minutes broadcast.
I witnessed—and I want to record this for the Hansard—on a daily basis, in the months of February, March and April 2012, what appeared to me when I went into the Speaker’s office an entirely professional relationship between him and his constituent adviser. Strangely excluded from the 60 Minutes program was Extra Minutes, a special that 60 Minutes broadcast online. In Extra Minutes, it is very odd that Mr Ashby, who claims to have been repulsed by the Speaker’s approaches, made it clear that the last straw for him in his betrayal of his employer was that the then Speaker would not take him on a first-class trip to Hungary. As David Marr argued in The Guardian:
A few days later, under Brough’s direction, Ashby began scouring Slipper’s office records for damaging details of travel expenses to be fed to Telegraph journalist Steve Lewis.
I will not go into all of the details, as I planned to, about the role of the Murdoch press in all of this, including The Daily Telegraph, or the securing of him in a safe house in Sydney. I just want to conclude with some points about how this was used for the destruction of the Gillard government and the terrible destruction of one individual. Slipper was a competent Speaker. Slipper is an eccentric character. Slipper probably said stupid things, sexist things, to his staff member. Let us all remember this: the texts that were introduced into this parliament by the member for Curtin were made between Ashby and Slipper two years before Ashby was in his employment. What would any of us think of a person who was a prospective employee of ours who recorded our conversations, personal texts between us, with a possible view to blackmail? You inveigle yourself. You try and become popular with the person.
I know the case of Slipper. He married a younger woman, Inge, a lovely person who convinced the then Speaker to take a more modern view of a gay man, Ashby. They took him into their bosom. They took him into their office, and their confidence and their trust were abused in the most foul play. I saw that man in his office all the time, working happily with the Speaker. Only when his overseas trips or the prospect of bringing down the government and getting vast amounts of cash suggested to him that he could take another course, did he betray the couple that had looked after him so well.
There are other people who have guilt in this matter too. The former Attorney-General, my friend Nicola Roxon, should never have made a different standard for the then Speaker than what had been made for all leading members of this parliament. He should have had a legal defence. Now, we all have insurance to protect ourselves, each of us, from an employee doing a similar thing to us. That is justified. The former Special Minister of State is an excellent person who foresaw this problem, not just for Labor but for all sides of politics, and introduced these insurance schemes.
It was also dishonourable that his solicitors, the firm of Maurice Blackburn, abandoned Slipper on the edge of court after the Commonwealth unwisely made its separate deal with Ashby for $50,000—a deal which, if it would have waited, Justice Rares would have invalidated. The Cabcharge thing has been invalidated in a Canberra court, and we would have known, via 60 Minutes, that this was all done because of prospective inducements.
Some people affectionately refer to me as the ‘member for lost causes’ in this parliament because of my support for Tibet, Darfur and the Baha’is and various other groups. I never imagined that I would become a friend or defender of a National Party member from Queensland, but this is not over. If the CDPP recommends, after advice from the Federal Police, that these inducements be looked at, this is not over.