Peter Slipper
Peter Slipper Warren Lynam

Slipper's days 'numbered'

A LETTER outlining James Ashby's $50,000 settlement with the Commonwealth shows Peter Slipper's days as Speaker of the Parliament are numbered.

>>See a copy of the letter

The out-of-court settlement was reached on Thursday, with the Federal Government also agreeing to implement a sexual harassment education program for parliamentary staff.

Mr Ashby was suing the Federal Government on the basis it had not provided a safe working environment.

But he will continue to pursue his case against Mr Slipper, claiming the Sunshine Coast MP sexually harassed him while he was working in the Speaker's office earlier this year.

Mr Slipper has continued to perform many of the duties associated with the Speaker's role, although he has not sat in the Parliament since April.

It was revealed this week he spent $173,000 for overseas travel and hosting dignitaries despite being sidelined as Speaker.

But it appears Mr Slipper has 12 months left in the chair at best, with a number of "likely" possibilities regarding his future outlined in the Australian Government Solicitor's letter of claim.

"His (Mr Ashby) employment ... will terminate if Mr Slipper ceases to hold the office of Speaker," the letter reads.

"This event will occur if Mr Slipper resigns as Speaker, is replaced by another, ceases to be a member of parliament or is not re-elected Speaker after the next federal election.

"One or other of those events is likely to occur. Accordingly, the longest period your client can reasonably expect to remain employed with the Commonwealth is some time toward the end of 2013."

Although the matter is due to return to the Federal Court in Sydney on Tuesday, Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said in a statement there was still time for Mr Ashby to drop the case against his boss.

"The whole matter should be brought to a speedy conclusion in coming days," Ms Roxon said.

A spokesman for Mr Ashby said the settlement had been reached on "favourable grounds" and left Mr Slipper "without the support of the Federal Government" in contesting the civil action.

>>See the statement from Mr Ashby

Mr Ashby only agreed to the settlement because his "objectives" for suing the Commonwealth had been satisfied.

"Mr Ashby has consistently maintained that his motivations in bringing the case were to stop Mr Slipper's conduct against him, to prevent recurrence of that conduct in relation to parliamentary staff, current or future, and not about money," the statement read

The spokesman said in agreeing to the settlement the Federal Government had "retreated" from its abuse of process claims.

It was an assertion dismissed by Ms Roxon.

She said the Commonwealth had sought a "speedy conclusion" to the matter, which had threatened to become a "lawyers' picnic" at a significant cost to taxpayers.

"The Commonwealth made clear before the court that it believed this case was an abuse of process and brought for an improper purpose," Ms Roxon said.

"This included a range of evidence that is now in the public arena about how Mr Ashby brought this matter before the court.

"We don't resile from arguments that we've previously made before the court that the claim was vexatious.

However, as Mr Ashby has now withdrawn his claim, our abuse of process claim will be withdrawn as well."

Ms Roxon was among a number of prominent government ministers to make public statements about the case.

The decision by the Commonwealth opens the door for Liberal National Party candidate for Fisher Mal Brough to take legal action against the government for defamation after a string of ministers accused him of being involved in a "conspiracy" against Mr Slipper using "vexatious" claims.

Mr Brough would not comment directly but APN News and Media understands he will seek legal advice in light of the settlement.

The former Howard government minister said the court outcome underscored the judgment failure of Prime Minister Julia Gillard in installing the disgraced MP as Speaker in the first place.

"We should not forget that it was Gillard's personal decision, backed by Minister Albanese, to install Slipper into this position," Mr Brough said.

"It goes to her judgment."

Many taxpayers would now want to know whether the Commonwealth would continue to foot the bill for Mr Slipper's legal expenses, he said.

Ms Roxon's office had replied to APN's questions about Mr Slipper's legal costs or the prospect of Mr Brough suing for defamation.


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