ASHBYGATE by Ross Jones – A book review

ASHBYGATE  

The plot to destroy Australia’s Speaker 

by Ross Jones 

 

Ashbygate

 

Tony Abbott took over the reins as Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal National Coalition Party on 1 December 2009 and it is my personal opinion that from that day on Australian politics descended into ‘gutter politics’ in which no perceived enemy or opponent of Abbott was spared!  Abbott went on to lead the Coalition to the 2010 general election which resulted in a hung parliament.  Labor  formed  government with the help of the Greens and Independent MPs.  Abbott appears to be a vindictive and spiteful man, who  with the assistance of a large willing and supportive in-house  ‘team’ set about to undermine the Gillard Government, and consequently  destroyed  the Speaker of the House, Peter Slipper.  Abbott was re-elected as Liberal Leader unchallenged  and eventually  led  the Coalition to victory in the 2013 election  and was sworn in as the 28th Prime Minister of Australia on 18 September 2013. (Tony Abbott’s tenure as Prime Minister lasted for a year, when he was deposed by current PM Malcolm Turnbull.)

There is no doubt that a group of LNP politicians and others,   deployed a series of tactics to  undermine PM Gillard during her term of office, but this is beyond the scope of  Jones’ book  ASHBYGATE which deals solely with the destruction of Australia’s Speaker, the vital aspect of the plan to bring down Gillard’s Labor government.

Ross Jones’ book ASHBYGATE  is an account of the results of his investigation into how the Speaker was hounded from the Chair. The Speakership is the most important office in the House of Representatives. The House cannot operate without a Speaker because he/she  is the principal office holder in the House of Representatives. He/she is the House’s representative or spokesperson, the Chair of its meetings and its ‘Minister’ in respect of its support services. By all accounts, Peter Slipper was an efficient Speaker who valued his role dearly, but he also had enemies within…he had the temerity to resign from LNP to take on the role as Speaker in a Labor government. Peter Slipper and Tony Abbott were very close friends until Slipper’s  ‘betrayal’ . There wasn’t much about each’s personal life that the other didn’t know about.

Jones allows primary documents, in chronological order,  such as, emails and other correspondence, text messages, and Ashby vs Slipper court evidence,  to inform readers of the machinations that drove  the Ashbygate  saga and this gives them  the opportunity to form their own opinions about the politicians who were  involved and implicated in this sordid saga. It also gives the book validity as a valuable record of Australia’s political history.

Readers will read in the pages of ASHBYGATE   that Peter Slipper is no  paragon of virtue, and has never claimed to be.  Yes, at  times he acted foolishly, but I don’t believe he deserved the total destruction of his career and his private life which was essentially brought about by former colleagues who have themselves  much in their political histories  and private lives  to hide from scrutiny. In the end, Ashby withdrew all charges of sexual harassment against Slipper .  Slipper was cleared of all dishonesty charges relating to the fraudulent use of Commonwealth  Cabcharge dockets in 2010. Jones writes: This means the highly damaging  cases Mr Slipper had piling up against him – including claims of sexual harassment from his former media adviser, James Ashby, have been either withdrawn or  shown to have had no substance.

After reading   ASHBYGATE ,  I‘d like to pose  a few questions:

  1. Was Tony Abbott, along with his close advisers, and political colleagues,  the ‘brains’ behind  Ashbygate?  Is it conceivable that he would not have been involved given how and when the documented events took place?
  1. Was James Ashby so stressed during the short time he worked as press secretary for Peter  Slipper, not because of two or three  salacious texts and other real or imagined ‘overtures’ by Slipper, but because Ashby was unsuitable and unqualified for the position? Is there some evidence that his gay lifestyle  may have been a factor in his precarious  emotional state?
  1. Why did Peter Slipper employ Ashby, an ex DJ and strawberry farm advertising agent, for such an important role as press secretary in the first place, given Ashby’s lack of qualifications?
  1. If Peter Slipper had any case to answer, why did the Commonwealth cover the ‘shortfall between Slipper’s legal fees and the costs ultimately recovered as a result of the Rares judgement’?
  1. Why did James Ashby and Mal Brough approach Clive Palmer for funds for legal fees, which would amount to millions of dollars, in the pursuit of Slipper?  In any  event  Palmer refused, so someone  else must have assured Ashby of  financial backing; was it Christopher Pyne, as Ashby claims?
  1. Did Justice Rares make a judgment that Ashby’s sexual harassment claims were vexatious in order to protect the judge’s friends in high political places?  Would  his  finding  in favour of Ashby have led to the exposure of  Tony Abbott and other high profile politicians to a long drawn out trial, involving sworn testimony? [Vexatious litigation is legal action which is brought, regardless of its merits, solely to harass or subdue an adversary]
  1. What was the real reason Karen  Doane  sought to destroy her employer, Peter Slipper? According to her texts and emails, she was hardly ever in Slipper’s office, and spent much of the time leading up to Ashby’s public allegations,  on ‘sick’ leave?  Was Doane simply one of the most dishonest, disloyal, and laziest employees ever, or was there something more sinister in her behaviour? Whatever the reasons, she was on paid sick leave of over $1000.00 per week for years  until she finally received a huge payout of taxpayer funds in settlement for what?

In places,  ASHBYGATE  was an intense  read because of the many phone texts and emails  to work through, even allowing for the different fonts used to differentiate between the various senders and writers.  However, it is very much worth the effort. The comings and goings, the minutiae  of political office, and the effect on family life,  are intriguing . I fully realise  now,  how true is the time worn  cliché  that  ‘a week in politics is a long  time’.

There were a few minor spelling errors in the emails and texts, which may or may not have been senders’  errors, but there were also quite a number of  spelling errors in the author’s prose. Let me assure readers, that while typos  jumped out at me, they in no way detracted from what I consider to be a valuable book and a great read. Jones has obviously spent months accessing relevant documents and records, as well as  undertaking  several  interviews, in his research for this book. I congratulate him for bringing to light the story behind  Ashbygate.

I urge voters to read ASHBYGATE so they may gain insight into the actions of those politicians involved in the destruction of the Speaker of the House.

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I am not an affiliate of any political party; I bought ASHBYGATE  from one of my favourite bookstores, Readings in Carlton.  I detest any form of injustice, and I believe  that  Peter Slipper has been served a great injustice.

-Anne Frandi-Coory   20 May 2016

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