House debates

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Matters of Public Importance

Australia's Political System

3:46 pm

Photo of Michael DanbyMichael Danby (Melbourne Ports, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | Hansard source

As the member just suggested, we dare not speak his name. The current member for Fisher stood in this chamber and declared the Federal Court had exonerated him with regard to claims that he encouraged James Ashby to breach section 70 of the Crimes Act 1914 and section 478.1 of the Criminal Code 1995 by procuring the former Speaker's official diary. This was forensically drawn out by the member for Isaacs over several question times.

The current member for Fisher said in this chamber last Thursday, 26 November, in defence of his and the government's integrity:

… the findings of the full bench of the Federal Court, which dealt with all of the evidence put before it … found entirely that I acted appropriately.

The current member for Fisher has subsequently made numerous references to the Federal Court decision, including yesterday, when he made explicit references to paragraphs 122 and 124. But the Federal Court has made no judgement on this. The current member for Fisher was found neither guilty nor innocent of this allegation, as the member for Isaacs pointed out. For him to suggest otherwise signifies, at the very least, a misunderstanding of judicial process. If the current member for Fisher continues to make this claim, he would run the risk of misleading this parliament. To recount, on 12 December 2012, Judge Rares threw out James Ashby's claims against Peter Slipper on the grounds of abuse of process. In that decision, the judge savaged many people, not least the current member for Fisher. Judge Rares found:

… Mr Ashby and Ms Doane … were in … combination with Mr Brough to cause Mr Slipper as much political and public damage as they could inflict on him.

Further, the judge added:

Mr Brough was unlikely to have been offering to assist Ms Doane and Mr Ashby … out of pure altruism. Realistically, his preparedness to act for them was created and fed by their willingness to act against Mr Slipper’s interests and assisting Mr Brough’s and the LNP’s interests in destabilising Mr Slipper’s position as Speaker and damaging him in the eyes of his electorate.

Ashby sought leave to appeal, and that was granted on 27 February 2014. In that judgement, their Honours held in paragraph 122—the very paragraph that the current member for Fisher cited:

That Brough was prepared to … look at evidence produced by Ashby … does not necessarily mean that his purpose was to harm Slipper politically.

It is just as the member for Isaacs pointed out when he said 'does not necessarily mean'. The current member for Fisher mistakenly believes this vindicates him, but the paragraph is clear that the court did not decide the question of procuring the diary excerpts. It merely stated it 'does not necessarily mean' that the current member for Fisher was motivated in that way.

Later, and more importantly, on 9 February 2015, the Federal Court upheld Ashby's appeal on the grounds of procedural fairness. The judges once again addressed the current member for Fisher's involvement, but once again did not pass judgement on it. Paragraph 46 of that judgement in February 2015 says:

There is no doubt that Slipper’s allegations in relation to Ashby’s purposes for instituting the primary proceeding were serious. As it transpired, the Full Court … did not share the view of the primary judge … it was correct to have acceded to the summary dismissal application. That did not amount to the Full Court making positive findings in favour of Ashby … It did not invoke any specific findings of fact in his favour.

The judges said:

There had not then been a trial of all issues. The relevant evidence had not been given, and the reliability of the witnesses had not been exposed to testing by cross-examination. In the event, as noted above, that will not occur because Ashby has discontinued his proceeding.

The court said that the evidence had not been tested. There is new evidence that will come out, however, if this is looked at further. As the member for Isaacs pointed out, on 60 Minutesthe journalist, Hayes, asked the member for Fisher, 'Did you ask James Ashby to procure copies of Peter Slipper's diary? The current member for Fisher answered, 'Yes, I did.' Hayes continued, 'Do you think it was the right thing to do?' The member for Fisher answered, 'Let others be the judge of that.' That is exactly what this parliament is doing. We are making a judgement on the ethics, morality and integrity of this government and the member for Fisher, and I am sure it will be found wanting if those claims made on 60 Minutes are accurate.


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