Mal Brough may be able to evade journalist's questions on a train, or by not answering his phone, but he may have more trouble with the Queensland Police. Vince O'Grady reports.
THERE IS NO DOUBT, whatsoever, that many Australians want to know answers to the questions posed by the group, Australians for Honest Politics, and other online publications, about Mal Brough's involvement in the Slipper and Ashby affair.
Personally, I would like to pay due acknowledgement to Margo Kingston – a respected journalist and internet pioneer – for her interest in asking questions and sending them to the editor of the Sunshine Coast Daily. I would also like to highly praise the editor, Darren Burnett, for his immediate response to Margo and in sending the questions to the journalist Kathy Sundstrom. Last, but not least, I would like to praise and applaud Kathy for her tenacity and courage in putting all these questions to Brough on their train journey of 23 January 2013, between the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane. It is sad that despite all these efforts, Brough was dismissive, disingenuous and evasive.
It is important to take a quick look back about what the case was about initially and what it morphed into.
[Read IA's full investigation into Ashbygate by clicking here.]
On 20th April 2012, James Ashby lodged claims in the Federal court against two respondents: the Commonwealth of Australia and Federal Speaker Peter Slipper.
Ashby claimed that he had been sexually harassed by Peter Slipper whilst in his employ during the January to March period of 2012.
He also claimed that, due to an incident in 2003, which he claimed was known about by the Commonwealth, they were complicit in the offence.
He further claimed that Peter Slipper had misused his official Cabcharge dockets.
In response to his allegations, Both Peter Slipper and the Commonwealth said that the case was an abuse of process and should be dismissed.
During the proceedings, Ashby dropped the Cabcharge allegations and made a complaint to the Australian Federal police.
Peter Slipper has since been summoned to appear at the Canberra Magistrates Court to answer charges of dishonesty regarding his cabcharge use. However, those charges do not relate to the allegations made by Ashby. They were about the use of entitlements in the first half of 2010 — long before Ashby was employed by Slipper in late 2011.
On 12 December 2012, after reading 1,704 pages of Evidence from both sides, his honour Justice Rares made the astounding – and extremely rare, in legal terms – finding that Ashby's entire case was an abuse of process. The judge ordered Ashby to pay costs.
Steven Rares then went onto describe why he had made that finding, and the scathing 202 paragraph judgement can be viewed by clicking here.
The Commonwealth had settled with Ashby during the proceedings and so Peter Slipper was vindicated that his claim of abuse of process was upheld. In short, Rares agreed with slipper that the whole sordid affair was a political set-up to destroy Slipper and deliver Government to the LNP.
Since then, both Ashby and his lawyer, Michael Harmer, have sought leave to appeal and Peter Slipper has sought indemnity costs — costs which are higher than those normally awarded.
Having reviewed the situation, let's look at what Mal Brough said to the Sunshine Coast Daily reporter Kathy Sundstrom at Brisbane Station, after the train ride from the Sunshine Coast to Brisbane.
WE take a seat on a metal bench in the busy concourse of Central Station in Brisbane.
It is the first interview Mal Brough has given since being roundly condemned by a federal court judge in December for his involvement in the James Ashby affair.
Kathy then says that Brough has been accommodating, funny and has lost none of his political charisma. The article goes on:
The topic comes up innocently as we discuss the benefits of Tweeting, Facebooking and the dangers of sending a message that be on record forever.
"You send a frivolous message and in a couple of years time it could come back to haunt you," Mr Brough says.
I say, "Yes, we know too well how that has happened".
"The funny thing was the five texts (concerning his involvement with Ashby) were still there because I didn't delete them. I wouldn't have known how," he says casually.
It provides an opening to the Ashby saga and the Australian Federal Police investigation into whether he has breached three sections of the Criminal Code and Crimes Act.
He suggests there is "nothing to talk about".
"It's run its course," he says.
Brough then refuses to answer any more questions and says it before appeal.
He also claims that he hasn't been dodging the press, but that no journalists have asked him for interviews. This rather absurd statement was immediately dismissed by prominent ABC journalists Lexi Metherell and Simon Cullen, along with News Limited's Samantha Maiden.
His answers are misleading in the extreme.
The five texts he refers to are the texts entered into evidence in the federal court Annexure to Affidavit. They...
- Were not frivolous
- Were not on his phone, but Ashby's, and so could not have been deleted by him whether he knew how to or not.
- s140 - Attempting to pervert justice;
- Ch 36 - Stealing;
- s 433 - Receiving tainted property.
Brough’s assertion that there is nothing to talk about is also patently false.
Brough first met Ashby on the 23 March 2012 — the day after the last sitting day before Easter. The week had been a busy one for Ashby:
On 19 March, he had met with Christopher Pyne and had drinks in the Speaker’s office.
On 20 March (or thereabouts), he had gone to Julie Bishop’s office and complained of sexual harassment (according to Julie Bishop).
On 22 March he visited Christopher Pyne’s office to pick up a bottle of wine signed by Tony Abbott (Why he didn’t go to Tony Abbott’s office to pick it up, we wonder.)
And then on 23 March, he met with Mal Brough and his wife — for three hours.
An interview written up in the Sunshine Coast Daily on 6 May 2012 quotes Brough as saying the following about this meeting:
"I got a call from James Ashby on March 23," Mr Brough said.
"I said I would ring him back. I spoke to Sue (his wife) and she said I should only talk to him with the two of us there. Mr Ashby came and spoke for three hours but danced around and didn't come to it.
"He had been here quite some time before he outlined some of the allegations.
"He talked about the Cabcharge stuff and wanted advice on whether it was an offence not to report a crime if you thought one had occurred."
Mr Brough said at his second meeting with Mr Ashby he had told him he needed him to explain exactly what it was about.
"What he had to say was very confronting," he said.
"I said if he believed a crime had occurred he should go to the police. And I told him to get legal advice."
Mr Brough said the pair had a third meeting on Good Friday. He had arranged someone to be there, whom he did not name, who he said knew about legal matters.
"Mr Ashby took us through everything and said he had arranged lawyers himself who he would meet the next Tuesday," he said.
All of this information has dribbled out in bits and pieces. Christopher Pyne and Mal Brough denied meeting Ashby at all initially, but then, when information came out, admitted to the meetings, but said there was nothing improper about them. So why not tell the truth first up if there is nothing to hide?
But back to Brough.
He was the last in a line of LNP contacts who met with Ashby during that January to March period last year.
The first was Mark McArdle, who used to be the shadow attorney-general and shadow minister for iustice in the Queensland Parliament. The second was Christopher Pyne, a lawyer, and the third was Julie Bishop (a lawyer) or her office; only at the end did Ashby end up with Mal Brough — the only person without legal qualifications. Brough's assertion that Ashby met with him, a non-lawyer, for legal advice after being in contact with all those other lawyers beforehand, appears extremely unlikely, to say the least.
Mal Brough would also have us believe that the five text messages were the sum total of his involvement in the matter. They are not, as the documents in evidence show an entirely different picture.
On 29th March he received a text message from Ashby which contained the details of pages of Peter Slippers work diary. He then asked in those texts for Ashby to email it to him as it was hard to read.
But that is not the only communication Brough had with Ashby, which appeared in the evidence.
At page 134/156 in the affidavit of Catherine Mann (solicitor for the Commonwealth) we can see the following email between Brough and Lewis.
It is interesting to note that this email was sent at 3.27pm and the extracts of the diary were texted to Brough before 9.33pm.
Page 125/156 of Catherine Mann's affidavit shows the following email between Brough and Ashby.
Why would Brough need to discuss anything with Ashby? What potential "problem" could there have been? Let's not forget, Ashby has been deposed by Harmers and is two days away from filing his complaint with the Federal Court.
These are only a few of the emails which passed between Doane, Ashby and Brough. There were also phone conversations, though no records of these have been entered into the evidence.
So, were these texts frivolous? I think not. But then there were also meetings, emails and telephone conversations. Were these all frivolous too? Clearly not.
Having reviewed the evidence again and having also taken legal advice regarding Mal Brough’s actions in regard to the Queensland Criminal Code, David Donovan and I have taken the opportunity as a citizen of this country to place the facts of Mal Brough’s actions before the Commissioner of the Queensland Police Service, setting out the details of his actions and the sections of the Queensland Criminal code that we believe he may have breached.
(It should also be noted that there is a separate request from Graham Perrett MP to the Australian Federal Police regarding possible breaches of the Federal Crimes Act in this affair. You can read his letter by clicking here.)
INDEPENDENT AUSTRALIA LETTER TO QUEENSLAND POLICE
Commissioner Ian Stewart
Queensland Police Service
200 Roma Street
Brisbane QLD 4000
GPO Box 1440, Brisbane QLD 4001
Dear Commissioner Stewart,
We are independent journalists who writes for an online news journal, Independent Australia.
One of our main focuses in articles lately has been the investigation of the 1,704 pages of evidence on the Federal Court website, regarding the allegations and court processes against the former Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Australian Parliament, the Honourable Peter Slipper MP, by Mr James Hunter Ashby.
One of the things which concerned us as interested observers was the progress of Mr Ashby in the text messages from lawyer to lawyer. From Mr Mark McArdle to Mr Christopher Pyne and finally to Mr Mal Brough who, although he is apparently not legally qualified, met with Ashby and Karen Doane (Mr Slipper’s media adviser) to offer legal advice on 23 March 2012.
From our reading of the material, it seems to us that following that meeting Ashby sent pages from Mr Slipper's diary to Mr Brough.
In his judgment, His Honour Rares J said the following at Para  “Later on 29 March 2012, Mr Brough exchanged texts with Mr Ashby. Mr Brough asked whether Mr Ashby could email a document because, what Mr Ashby had sent is “hard to read”. Mr Ashby said that he would email it and Mr Brough later responded: “Will need to get daily printouts tomorrow with greater detail”.
We infer that this exchange related to Mr Brough having been sent, and later emailed, copies of printouts from Mr Slipper’s electorate diary from 2009 made by Mr Ashby or Ms Doane.
On 29th March 2012, Mr Brough sent Ashby a text message and asked for the copies of the diary pages to be emailed, because the originals were hard to read.
|Can that be emailed James it is hard to read Mal.email@example.com||29/03/2012 11:31:19 am UTC (Network)||Read|
|Done. Coming thru in minutes||29/03/2012 11:31:53 am UTC (Device)||Sent|
|Thanks||29/03/2012 11:32:11 am UTC (Network)||Read|
|James can you give me a call please. Mal||12/04/2012 10:09:04 am UTC (Network)||Read|