Govt settles Slipper case as Ashby considers defamation suit
The federal government has settled its case with Speaker Peter Slipper’s staffer James Ashby for $50,000 and a pledge to provide training for MPs and parliamentary staff to prevent sexual harassment.
HOUSE of Representatives Speaker Peter Slipper’s staffer James Ashby is considering a defamation suit against Attorney-General Nicola Roxon following comments about the legal settlement of his lawsuit.
The federal government has settled its case with Mr Ashby for $50,000 and pledged to provide training for MPs and parliamentary staff to prevent sexual harassment.
Mr Ashby had sued the commonwealth, alleging it had failed to provide a safe workplace.
But Mr Ashby’s lawyers have now accepted a settlement offer from the Australian Government Solicitor (AGS), heading off what would have been a costly court battle.
Ms Roxon said on Friday Mr Ashby should now drop his pursuit of Mr Slipper over sexual harassment allegations.
The matter is next due to go to the Federal Court on Tuesday.
“As anyone who has been involved in a settlement will attest to, settlements aren’t about who is right or wrong, they are about bringing matters to a speedy conclusion, which the commonwealth has now achieved,” Ms Roxon said in a statement.
“The case should now be dropped against Mr Slipper as well and the whole matter should be brought to a speedy conclusion in coming days.”
However, Ms Roxon said the government did not resile from its argument “that the claim was vexatious”.
Letting the case go to trial would have led to a “lawyers’ picnic that could have extended well into next year”, she said.
A spokesman for Mr Ashby on Friday evening responded to Ms Roxon’s repeat of allegations that his claim was vexatious.
“The attorney-general’s statement may also be read as suggesting that it was Mr Ashby who initiated the withdrawal and settlement of the case, when the opposite is in fact the situation,” the spokesman said in a statement.
“It is regrettable that as a result of the attorney-general’s conduct, Mr Ashby is now forced to consider his position in relation to commencing defamation, victimisation and contempt-of-court proceedings against Ms Roxon and the commonwealth.”
Earlier, Mr Ashby’s spokesman said the commonwealth had offered $50,000 and an “improved education program for staff in relation to issues of bullying and harassment and to offer specific training for MPs and senators in relation to sexual harassment”.
He said the case had never been about money but rather to stop Mr Slipper’s conduct against Mr Ashby and prevent it happening to other parliamentary staff in the future.
The sexual harassment case against Mr Slipper would continue on Tuesday, the spokesman said.
The government also withdrew its “abuse of process” case against Mr Ashby.
AAP understands the federal government has to date spent more than $700,000 on the case.
The final amount is expected to be higher after the last bills are paid.
Mr Slipper has already been told by the court to pay Mr Ashby’s indemnity costs and the law firm Maurice Blackburn ceased to act for him last week.
The government has not received a request to cover Mr Slipper’s legal costs, but Ms Roxon said in April if such a request came forward it would be declined.
Comment is being sought from Mr Slipper.
Shadow attorney-general George Brandis told reporters in Brisbane the government had effectively conceded the validity of Mr Ashby’s claim by settling.
“The government would not have settled this claim unless its lawyers had advised it that Mr Ashby had good prospects of success,” he said, adding that all legal advice relating to the case should now be publicly released. – AAP