Mal Brough v Peter Slipper ... why LNP voters should care
MAL Brough's role in the failed James Ashby sexual harassment case against Peter Slipper continues to raise questions about whether the LNP should ever have endorsed him.
It also puts in question Tony Abbott's judgment - and his wisdom and truthfulness in saying Mr Bough had always been upfront about the whole affair.
The issue is not likely to go away.
According to a recent article in The Guardian, online activists have paid more than $50,000 into a fund called the Ashbygate Trust to engage lawyers, journalists and a private detective to investigate how far the plot against Slipper extended inside the opposition.
The lengthy piece opens with Peter Slipper's wife Inge saying: "He is heterosexual. He is heterosexual,'' despite the lewd text messages between Ashby and Slipper revealed in court documents.
"I love this man and this marriage will survive," Mrs Slipper is reported to have said.
The piece by David Marr goes to great lengths to detail Mal Brough's role in the tawdry affair.
It contains no startling revelations, but rather puts together much of the detail contained in the court documents from last December when Justice Steven Rares of the federal court threw out the case as a politically motivated abuse of process.
It does, however, put the heat back on Mal Brough, where it should be - and on Tony Abbott.
"This was a Brough operation. He was Ashby's key ally. Without him the case may never have got off the ground,'' Marr says.
Mr Brough has today disputed much of what Mr Marr writes - and the court judgment itself.
He reportedly told Marr that the court case is "a sideshow, an unfortunate sideshow. No one up here is interested in it."
Wrong Mr Brough. There are plenty of people interested in it.
If we are to believe the version of events, as determined by the court, and your initial lies about your involvement in it, this scandal goes to the heart of your character - and whether your are worthy of being elected as the man to replace Mr Slipper.
Mr Brough argues he only wanted to help Mr Ashby after he came to him with claims of sexual harassment.
It is interesting to note that similar approaches to Sunshine Coast MP Mark McArdle, Julie Bishop and Christopher Pyne came to nothing.
Perhaps they had better judgment.
Or was the work delegated to Brough as an opportunity to put Slipper - his arch enemy - out of action?
As the Sunshine Coast Daily has detailed over the years, Peter Slipper is no saint.
There have been questions about his sexuality swirling for years. It's a story the Daily has never touched because its no one's business - unless it impacts on his work as an MP or taxpayers expenses.
His excessive drinking and travel expenditure has been well documented by the Daily - work which contributed to the paper's PANPA Newspaper of the Year awards.
What is equally clear is that Mr Ashby, together with his lawyers and Mr Brough, sought to use the court process for their own political ends.
Mr Ashby was out to set himself, and fellow spin doctor Karen Doane, up for jobs in the LNP by removing his 'black mark' for working for the turncoat Slipper.
The fact that he made no formal complaint of sexual harassment - or even raised the issue with Mr Slipper - is telling.
The fact that the story was in News Ltd papers across the country when the ink was barely dry on the court documents is also telling.
Accordging to the court's judgment, this was an well orchestrated attack by numerous people within the ranks of the LNP.
WHAT THE JUDGE SAID ABOUT THE PLOT
I am also satisfied that Mr Ashby and (former media adviser Karen) Doane by about 29 March 2012 were in a combination with Mr Brough to cause Mr Slipper as much political and public damage as they could inflict on him.
They believed and hoped that Mr Lewis (News Ltd political journalist Steve Lewis) would publish unfavourable stories about Mr Slipper concerning whatever they could help Mr Lewis find in relation to Mr Slipper's use of his travel entitlements in the areas of Mr Lewis' curiosity.
That is why each of Mr Ashby, Ms Doane and Mr Brough were anxious to provide Mr Lewis with the diary entries he sought. It is not clear whether Mr Brough had passed on to Mr Lewis Mr Ashby's foreshadowed complaint of sexual harassment in late March 2012.
They also believed that Mr Lewis, and the media generally, would report on any legal proceeding against Mr Slipper in which Mr Ashby alleged sexual harassment.
At this time, Mr Ashby and Ms Doane saw Mr Brough as their means of obtaining favour from the LNP in seeking new employment.
It was obvious that once what Mr Ashby was then planning became public, he and Ms Doane could no longer work as members of Mr Slipper's personal staff.
The relationship of trust and confidence (if it still subsisted) between Mr Slipper and the two staff members would have been destroyed by their acts of calculated disloyalty.
The timing of Mr Ashby's and Ms Doane's actions immediately after 24 March 2012 is also significant.
They believed that new job opportunities would open up to them after the LNP won government in Queensland on the weekend of 24-25 March 2012.
If Mr Ashby could discredit Mr Slipper politically by helping Mr Brough and using Mr Lewis, he perceived that would gain favour for him and Ms Doane in the eyes of the LNP.
Mr Russell QC may have disabused Mr Ashby of that perception on 6 April 2012. However, both Mr Ashby and Ms Doane acted on that basis before 6 April 2012 and she, at least, continued to do so later.
In the lead-up to the federal elections, it will be interesting to see how many Sunshine Coast voters ask themselves serious questions about Mal Brough.
Or is it just a sideshow as Mr Brough suggests?
* Mark Furler is APN Australian Regional Media's group digital editor and former editor in chief of the award-winning Sunshine Coast Daily. He has worked on the Sunshine Coast as a journalist for more than 25 years.