I certainly hold no candle for Peter Slipper. He let down his party and his electorate when he accepted the Speaker’s chair, and he appears to have a great deal of explaining to do over expenses claims. On the other hand, he works hard for his electorate, has a long-lasting and by all appearances loving marriage, and is said by those who know him well to be intelligent and caring.
Accusations of sexual harassment by a former staffer seem both unjust and carefully planned.
Mr Slipper may be gay or bi-sexual. In that case he has some things he may need to talk over with his wife. He may already have done so. It would be wrong for me or anyone else to make any assumptions about Slipper’s marriage. It would certainly be wrong to assume that Slipper has ever had a gay affair. He may simply be comfortable enough with his own sexuality to enjoy the company of gay men, and even the occasional flirtation.
His accuser, James Ashby, certainly is gay. He is also a member of the Liberal National Party. He appears to be less than stable.
Mr Ashby’s impulsiveness surfaced during a press conference in Queensland last month when he responded to a question about Mr Slipper’s parliamentary expenses by flinging the reporter’s still-recording iPhone into the air and then taunting him to “go get it”.
It was a throwback to 10 years earlier when Mr Ashby, then 23, was forced to depart Newcastle radio station NX-FM after making a string of abusive phone calls to a rival shockjock, branding him a “psychopath” and threatening to assault him “next time I see you riding your f . . king bike”.
Mr Ashby’s solicitor at the time argued he was a “gentle, fun-loving, young fellow” who had done a “stupid” thing; he was fined $2000 and placed on a good behaviour bond.
Mr Ashby later moved to north Queensland where he appeared in the Townsville Bulletin’s social and news pages. In 2005, he recounted how a thief walked into his printing business, Newa Image, and stole a laptop and electronic goods worth $12,000 from his back room. Two years later, he was among thousands short-changed by the collapse of internet provider Rawnet, saying it owed his business $7559 for brochures.
He later joined Gowinta Farms, the Sunshine Coast’s largest strawberry farm, as a marketing manager, writing on his blog that it reminded him of spending time at his grandfather’s farm at nearby Woodford as a boy.
Mr Ashby also garnered widespread attention last May when he announced poison had been found in one of the farm’s water tanks.
A similar story had previously emerged from tomato crops in Bowen, in north Queensland.
If the Liberal Party thinks that in James Ashby they have found someone who will bring Slipper down, and with him, the Gillard government, they are on very shaky ground.
So far, the evidence of wrongdoing appears to be a complaint by Ashby that Slipper was sexually interested in him, when he, Ashby, was not interested in Slipper, along with a few text messages which seem to confirm the impression of a sexual interest by Slipper in Ashby.
But surely this is not evidence of any offence. As an employee, it may have made Ashby uncomfortable. But the adult thing to do if someone appears to have a sexual interest in you which you do not return, is to tell that person how you feel, and set some boundaries in the relationship. It only becomes sexual harassment when you have made your feelings clear to the other person, and the sexual suggestions continue regardless. I have not seen anything in the evidence presented by Ashby that shows this was the case.
Ashby’s suggestion that Slipper was in the habit of handing out blank cab-charge dockets is already under fire from at least one limo/taxi company.
So what is in these complaints for Ashby? And who encouraged him to make them?
It would be disappointing if the Liberal Party were behind this. If they are, it will seriously damage their credibility in the long run. And credibility is the biggest single commodity they have over the Labor Party.