Many more air miles await Slipper - and the Ashby saga

THE sexual harassment saga surrounding the Speaker, Peter Slipper, will be fought out in court after he and his accuser, James Ashby, failed to reach an agreement following a marathon mediation session at the Federal Court yesterday.

As a result, the sexual harassment case will resume today. Mr Slipper's application to have the case thrown out as an abuse of process will be heard.

Separately, Mr Slipper still awaits a decision by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions concerning alleged abuse of taxpayer-funded Cabcharges.

These dual proceedings have prevented Mr Slipper presiding over the House of Representatives since he stood aside in May.

But they have not stopped him from his other official duties - schmoozing the diplomatic set in Canberra and travelling the world supposedly fostering relations with other legislatures. In the coming months, Mr Slipper has booked trips to Italy, Morocco, Malta, Algeria, Tunisia, Qatar and Argentina.

This travel schedule, plus other perks of office, would end if one or both of the legal issues in which he is entangled returns an adverse finding because he would have to resign his post.

But if he is cleared by the DPP over the Cabcharge allegations, and the court dismisses the sexual harassment case, the government believes Mr Slipper should return immediately to his parliamentary duties.

This would free the acting Speaker, Anna Burke, from the chair and give back to the Gillard government a precious extra vote on the floor.

A spokeswoman for the DPP refused to shed any light on where the DPP was up to with its deliberations. Since July, it has been mulling information provided by the Australian Federal Police which investigated the alleged Cabcharge misuse.

The opposition believes that only if Mr Slipper is cleared by the court and the DPP should he return to the chair because any settlement by the Commonwealth would imply it is at fault.

''If Mr Slipper settles with James Ashby and admits the truthfulness of his claim then Julia Gillard has to make the call as to whether she thinks Mr Slipper should be in the chair,'' the manager of opposition business, Christopher Pyne, said.

The government dismisses this, saying the settlement it has already offered was designed to end the ''lawyers' picnic'' which has cost taxpayers about $730,000 and was not an admission of fault by the Commonwealth.

Mr Ashby accepted the government's settlement offer of $50,000 but the deal hit a snag when the Commonwealth later attempted to insert a clause indemnifying it from liability. This remained unresolved last night as well.

Mr Ashby's spokesman said his client's motivations were about stopping Mr Slipper's alleged conduct against him and sparing other parliamentary staff. ''This is not a case about money,'' he said.

Mr Slipper was chastised by the court for using his government car to enter the court's private car park and avoid media waiting outside the building.

Mr Slipper was let in by an aide of the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon. She later apologised to the court.

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