Slipper's strange court tactics

UPDATE 9pm: THE combination of a frustrated judge, a theatrical lawyer and bizarre tactics from a self-represented Parliamentary Speaker, made for a tedious day in Sydney's Federal Court.

While James Ashby's barrister Michael Lee labelled Sunshine Coast MP Peter Slipper "one of the most powerful people in the country" the sidelined Speaker attempted to have the sexual harassment case against him thrown out of court.

In his opening address to Justice Steven Rares on Thursday, Mr Slipper, who dumped his legal team last week, suggested the case be dropped altogether.

His argument was that because Mr Ashby had agreed to settle his concurrent dispute with the Commonwealth, outstanding accusations should be dismissed.

Justice Steven Rares explained to Mr Slipper that the Commonwealth matter was separate and the allegations against him still needed to be dealt with.

The Speaker was forced to sit in silence for the remainder of the morning as Mr Lee and Commonwealth Barrister Julian Burnside continued to bicker over the terms of the settlement which was expected to be finalised on Thursday.

Eventually, Mr Lee said he was tired of the "Commonwealth hanging around like a cranky uncle" and suggested the documents be signed later in the day so the court could get on with dealing with the abuse-of-process claim the Speaker had brought against Mr Ashby.

Mr Burnside offered to stay and assist the court with the hearing on the grounds he was familiar with Mr Slipper's points of claim.

He said he was also keen to dispel the "absurd" media innuendo that the Commonwealth had distanced itself from Mr Slipper.

The Speaker then asked for a three-minute break to speak with Mr Burnside.

A reluctant Justice Rares agreed but when Mr Slipper returned to the room there was no sign of Mr Burnside and he stood behind the bar table alone.

What followed was a sensational string of accusations from the Speaker, who had not been heard from personally since the allegations were made in March.

He told the court the case was "not about sexual harassment" but, among other things, an attempt to "destabilise the government of Australia".

He also claimed the allegations were aimed at damaging his career, finances and aiding his political opponent Mal Bough who was endorsed by the LNP as the candidate for his Queensland seat of Fisher.

Later, Mr Slipper waved his right to cross-examine witnesses and said he would only "like to reiterate" what he had said earlier.

His brief submissions were in stark comparison to those of Mr Lee who painted a picture of an employee stuck in a "power dynamic" who had struggled to confront a person "who holds a certain position of importance" about his behaviour.

When asked by Justice Rares if there was any evident Mr Ashby had ever asked the Speaker to "stop" Mr Lee claimed there were several references in conversations between the advisor and other people which suggested he found Mr Slipper's behaviour "inappropriate".

Eventually, the settlement between the Commonwealth and Mr Ashby was signed off about 4pm but not without a final swipe from Mr Lee.

In interrupting final submissions, Mr Lee asked the judge if the documents could be signed quickly so Mr Burnside, who was sporting crutches, could "hobble back to Victoria".

Justice Rares congratulated the Commonwealth and Mr Ashby on reaching an agreement.

The case against Mr Slipper will return to the court Friday morning.


UPDATE 2.30pm: SUNSHINE Coast MP Peter Slipper has begun his one-man defence campaign against sexual harassment allegations with a colourful display in Sydney's Federal Court.

The sidelined parliamentary Speaker, who chose to represent himself, told the court this morning, the case being brought against him by former staffer James Ashby was "not about sexual harassment"but was instead an attempt to "destabilise the government of Australia".

He said the allegations were designed to damage his reputation and finances and to aid his political opponent Mal Brough who had received the LNP's endorsement for his Queensland seat of Fisher.

He also claimed the majority of the communications between he and Mr Ashby ( being used as evidence of harassment)  took place before the advisor became his employee and during a time where he believed they were friends.

It was the first time the court heard from Mr Slipper himself since the allegations were first made in March.

When Mr Slipper first arrived in court this morning he suggested the case should be thrown out altogether because the Commonwealth had agreed to a $50,000 settlement.

Justice Steven Rares explained that wasn't "the way things work" and told the Speaker that while the Commonwealth and Mr Ashby may have settled their dispute, there was still the separate allegation of sexual harassment against the Speaker which would need to be dealt with.

Mr Slipper was then forced to sit down while the Commonwealth and Mr Lee continued to bicker over the terms of the $50,000 settlement which was supposed to be finalised within ten minutes today.

Instead, the dispute dragged on for hours until Mr Lee finally said he was tired of the "Commonwealth hanging around like a cranky old uncle" and said the outstanding issues could be sorted out at a later time.

Commonwealth barrister Julian Burnside offered to stay in the court room and assist the court with Mr Slipper's abuse of process claim but after a brief conversation with the Speaker, Mr Burnside left and Mr Slipper returned to the bar table alone.

The hearing continues.


Slipper caught on film outside court

THE sexual harassment case against Sunshine Coast MP Peter Slipper will go ahead in the Federal Court  today after mediation talks failed on Wednesday.

The parliamentary Speaker waded through the media scrum just after 9.30pm Wednesday night and was whisked away in a waiting car.

He had managed to avoid cameras in the morning when was driven through a side entry in a Commonwealth car but Justice Steven Rares ordered him to use the public exit like everyone else.

Mr Slipper's former adviser James Ashby alleges he was involved in inappropriate conduct, including sending lewd text messages.

Earlier in the day Mr Ashby's spokesman, Anthony McClellan, read a statement to the media outside the Federal Court as the former adviser stood silent, refusing to say anything or take any questions.

He said what happened in the mediation session was confidential.

"Mr Ashby has consistently maintained that his motivations in bringing this case were one to stop Mr Slipper, and his conduct against him, to prevent recurrence of that conduct in relation to parliamentary staff, current and future and that this is not a case about money," Mr McClellan said.

Mr Ashby was also suing the Federal Government for failing to provide a safe work environment while he was working for the Speaker.

Late last week it was revealed Mr Ashby had reached a $50,000 settlement with the Federal Government, but a courtroom dispute over the terms forced Commonwealth lawyers into Wednesday's mediation.

Mr McClellan said the  case would return to the Federal Court at 9.30am Thursday to "proceed against Mr Slipper and to hold the Commonwealth to the settlement that they offered and that we accepted."

Topics:  federal court james ashby peter slipper sydney

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