Tattered Slipper finally wins his day in court


James Ashby has lost his court battle against his one-time boss Peter Slipper, but he had already won his wider war. In this dramatic case, the law and politics intersected. The law decided in favour of the former Speaker, but the politics destroyed him.

Justice Steven Rares found that Ashby had taken action ''for the predominant purpose of causing significant public, reputational and political damage to Mr Slipper''.

'Peter Slipper is a victor, although he's not completely in the clear yet.' Photo: Andrew Meares

And that's just what he has done. He has left Slipper a discredited wreck despite the vindication the former Speaker can claim from this judgment.

Initially Mr Slipper stood aside while this sexual harassment case - and a police inquiry arising out of Ashby's claim about misused Cabcharges - was dealt with. Then, when the case brought to light text messages from Slipper that were offensive about women, the political pressure forced him to finally quit the speakership altogether.

With the judgment against Ashby, the Coalition is having to take a lot of flack. The judge is scathing about Mal Brough, who is set to win Slipper's seat next year. He finds the former Howard minister in this affair up to his elbows - far beyond Brough's public account of just giving counsel to a troubled man needing help. Brough wears the rough words of the court but his preselection won't be affected, only his reputation.

The government is talking up the notion of conspiracy and challenging Tony Abbott to say what he knew; suspicions have always been fuelled because his formula was to say he had ''no specific knowledge''.

While there is much talk about this grubby saga showing that politicians need to get out of the gutter, the mud still flies.

It's taken another turn now, but in the rough political world the Ashby affair in the past months worked to the Coalition's advantage - in the sense of reinforcing the perception of what a shabby deal the government did by installing Slipper to improve its numbers.

The point about that deal still stands, regardless of the court decision. The government elevated to the highest office of the Parliament a man who, given a past record of stretching the use of entitlements, should not have been installed in that position (although he actually performed his House duties well).

In a good day for the government, it still had to defend its decision to settle $50,000 on Ashby to get itself out of the case. Its argument that it seemed good insurance at the time is fair enough, but it sticks in the craw that Ashby got this windfall.

While Slipper has been vindicated in the Federal Court, the Director of Public Prosecutions is still considering a police brief about the Cabcharge allegations.

Where to now? Ashby is flagging an appeal - maybe. Slipper is victor, although he's not completely in the clear yet and he has lost his golden job. The Liberals are red-faced but unrepentant. The government is scoring political points but still licking old wounds.