James Ashby, the political adviser who lodged sexual harassment claims against disgraced MP Peter Slipper, the Liberal defector who became speaker during the Gillard Government, was interviewed on 60 Minutes on Sunday night.
The current affairs show promised its “special report” would “rock the Abbott government”, but it fell a long way short of that hype, despite attempts to claim it was some sort of Watergate-style cover up.
Ashby claims Christopher Pyne, then in opposition and now education minister, promised to organise a lawyer and job in state politics for him after he raised the harassment claims.
He also claims that Pyne said he would denounce Ashby as a “pathological liar” if he detailed their meeting.
Ashby alleges he turned up without warning at Pyne’s office under the pretext of collecting a bottle of wine to confirm what says he’d been told by another MP, that Pyne would back him:
“I sat down at his desk and I said to him, ‘Wyatt’s [Roy] discussed my situation with you.’
“He didn’t really acknowledge the question. He sort of just allowed me to continue talking. And I said to him, ‘I just need to know that my job is safe and that a lawyer will be provided’,” Ashby claimed on 60 Minutes.
“And he said they would. He did say to me, though, that I may never want to come back to Canberra, that I may choose to take up a job within state politics instead.
Pyne has consistently denied prior knowledge of the claims reading about them for the first time in a newspaper. He said he met Ashby on three occasions but the matter was never raised.
The minister declined to be interviewed for tonight’s story.
The interview, by Liz Hayes, graphically rehashed the tawdry details of the long-running court case, which eventually ended when Ashby decided to drop it in June.
There’s no doubt James Ashby, who it seems was most likely the subject of deeply unpleasant sexual harassment, has been left deeply damaged by the whole saga. He seemed enormously vulnerable when Hayes revealed a psychological assessment detailed his suicidal thoughts and he recounted the moment he considered taking his own life but decided he couldn’t do that to his mother.
However, he presented himself as naive beyond belief in accounting for his actions and perhaps less than truthful in some of his testimony to the court.
Despite the fact that Slipper has defected from the Liberal Party, and Ashby’s connections are conservative, he says he didn’t regard Slipper as “a rat”.
It’s hard to believe experienced politicians were unable to figure out the appropriate course of action to deal with sexual harassment concerns. His starting point was the Queensland energy minister, Mark McArdle, who simply told him to get another job.
Ashby supposedly kept a diary, written in capital letters, during his time as Slipper’s $160,000 adviser.
In it, he claims to have then turned to parliament’s youngest MP, Wyatt Roy, more than a decade his junior, for advice.
Ashby claims Roy “was shocked, he didn’t know what to do” and that “he would have to ask someone else”.
That someone was Christopher Pyne, according to Ashby.
Roy, like Pyne, has consistently denied any involvement in the case.
Also involved was Queensland MP, Mal Brough, a former Howard government minister who won Slipper’s old seat of Fisher at last year’s election.
Brough asked Ashby to gather evidence against Slipper by taking copies of his diary to prove he was misusing parliamentary allowances.
Brough appeared on 60 Minutes and admitted he did because he “believed Peter Slipper had committed a crime”.
Slipper was convicted of misusing Cabcharge vouchers in July and will be sentenced later this month.
Brough said it was up to others to judge if his actions were appropriate. He also supported Ashby in his case, but would not answer repeated questions from Hayes about whether he discussed the case with Coalition colleagues.
“If you were making an allegation that I or anyone else worked with anybody to make this happen, then I can tell you quite categorically, zero – no,” Brough said.
Overall, there was nothing Ashby said that will cause serious damage to the Abbott Government. It’s his word against a number of government MPs, who can easily point to the adverse assessment a Federal Court judge made against Ashby early on in his sexual harassment case. He wasn’t even vindicated after dropping the case just before it was due to go to court.
Ashby now runs a printing business on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
Asked if, in hindsight, he would do anything differently, Ashby said, “I wouldn’t engage the help of any politician”.
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