THE Speaker of the House of Representatives, Peter Slipper, has formally withdrawn the allegation that James Ashby ”unlawfully” sent extracts of his diary to a political rival and a journalist.
In the Federal Court yesterday, Ian Neil, SC, for Mr Slipper, said the decision was made in response to Mr Ashby’s claim that he was justified in leaking the extracts under the implied freedom of political communication in the constitution.
Mr Ashby’s barrister, Michael Lee, SC, said Mr Ashby had a duty to expose any wrongdoing. Mr Neil said in withdrawing the allegation, the ”time, trouble and expense” of exploring the merits of the constitutional argument would be spared.
In granting leave, Justice Steven Rares criticised Mr Slipper’s lawyers for changing their case after the evidence had closed.
Justice Rares said Mr Ashby had foreshadowed using the defence, known as an iniquity, yet Mr Slipper continued to pursue the allegation. He ordered the Speaker to pay Mr Ashby’s costs related to yesterday’s hearing.
”It’s not rocket science that an employee accused of leaking material would say it’s an iniquity,” Justice Rares said. ”Now that you have closed your case, you seek to pull back from it. Why shouldn’t I make an order for costs?”
In a statement, a spokesman for Mr Ashby said: ”After repeating numerous times his allegation of unlawful conduct by us in releasing extracts of Mr Slipper’s diary relevant to his alleged misuse of taxpayers’ funds, Mr Slipper has now finally unconditionally withdrawn that allegation in these proceedings.”
Justice Rares also ordered Mr Ashby’s team to hand over notes taken by a clinical psychologist, Louise Morrow, during consultations with Mr Ashby in April and June by close of business today.
The Commonwealth also won the right to inspect communication sent by Mr Ashby’s lawyers, Harmers, to clinical Associate Professor Jonathan Phillips on June 27.
Justice Rares expressed frustration with the way the case had progressed. ”This case has taken up an inordinate amount of court time. I haven’t even got to hearing the case,” he said.
Mr Ashby, Mr Slipper’s former media adviser, is suing the government and Mr Slipper under the Fair Work Act and for breach of contract.
Mr Ashby accuses Mr Slipper of ”unwelcome sexual advances, unwelcome sexual comments and unwelcome suggestions of a sexual nature”. He claims loss and damage for the ”offence, humiliation, distress, anxiety and stress … and dislocation to life”.
The Commonwealth is being sued as it could be held responsible for the Speaker’s conduct because Mr Ashby was employed by Mr Slipper on its behalf.
Mr Slipper, a former Liberal MP turned independent, has stepped aside as Speaker to defend himself against Mr Ashby’s claims.
The Commonwealth and Mr Slipper’s application to have the case thrown out as an abuse of process will be heard in October.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.