DCSIMG

Australian speaker’s gay-sex suit thrown out

Peter Slipper: Victim of a political ambush. Picture: AP

Peter Slipper: Victim of a political ambush. Picture: AP

  • by KRISTEN GELINEAU and JAMES GRUBEL
 

A SEXUAL harassment suit against the former speaker of Australia’s parliament was thrown out of court yesterday.

The judge dismissed the allegations against Peter Slipper as nothing more than a political attack aimed at ruining his career and advancing the interests of the opposition party.

Mr Slipper was forced to resign in October, weakening prime minister Julia Gillard’s minority government, after his media adviser James Ashby raised a lawsuit accusing him of propositioning him for sex.

Ms Gillard’s centre-left Labour government had recruited Mr Slipper from opposition ranks to the speaker’s post in a move that gave Labour an additional vote on most legislation. When Mr Slipper resigned, she was forced to rely on independent and minor-party MPs to further her legislative agenda.

Mr Slipper, who is married, denied the sexual harassment allegation and argued the lawsuit had been designed solely to hurt him and destabilise the government.

Federal court justice Steven Rares agreed, and found that Ashby – who is gay – and a colleague had used the lawsuit in a bid to boost their careers with the opposition Liberals.

“I have reached the firm conclusion that Mr Ashby’s predominant purpose for bringing these proceedings was to pursue a political attack against Mr Slipper and not to vindicate any legal claim he may have,” Justice Rares wrote in his decision.

He did not rule on whether Mr Slipper was guilty of sexual harassment. The judge dubbed the lawsuit an abuse of the judicial process, and ordered Ashby to pay Mr Slipper’s legal costs.

In a statement yesterday, Mr Slipper said he was pleased by Justice Rares’ decision to dismiss the proceedings and felt “vindicated” by the judgment. “I have always maintained that Mr Ashby’s application was about manipulating the justice system to inflict damage on my reputation and political career and to advance the interests of the Liberal National Party,” he said.

He said the past eight months had been “extremely traumatic for my wife, family and me”.

Ashby said he planned to appeal the decision. “There’s been a determined campaign to try to prevent the substantive allegations being heard and judged in open court and to put me at a maximum cost in pursuing justice,” he said outside the court in Sydney.

Ashby had claimed he was the target of “unwelcome sexual advances, unwelcome sexual comments and unwelcome suggestions of a sexual nature” while working for Mr Slipper between January and March this year.

Ashby had revealed hundreds of text messages in which he claimed Mr Slipper made lewd comments, including comparing female genitalia to shellfish, and an exchange in which Mr Slipper allegedly suggested they have a “closer” relationship.

The allegations against Mr Slipper have rocked the government for most of 2012, with the opposition attacking Ms Gillard for backing Mr Slipper and for accepting his vote in parliament.

Ms Gillard’s defence of Mr Slipper led to a fiery speech in parliament in October, where she accused opposition leader Tony Abbott of being “misogynist”. The speech became a global internet hit.

She has a one-seat majority and relies upon independents and Greens to wield power. Mr Slipper has no deal to support her, but he is unlikely to vote against her in a no-confidence motion, reducing the chance of an election before late 2013.

 

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