Peter Slipper, who stepped aside as speaker of Australia’s parliament amid claims he sexually harassed a male staff member, said today the lawsuit was an abuse of court processes that had damaged his reputation.
The filing was “accompanied by a publicity blitz” with the complainant making no attempt to communicate with the speaker or the government, Slipper’s lawyer Josh Bornstein told a judge in Sydney. “The publicity has been extremely damaging to Mr. Slipper.”
James Ashby claims he was the victim of unwelcome sexual advances while he worked as an adviser to Slipper and is seeking unspecified damages. The civil case, and a police investigation into whether Slipper misused taxpayer-funded travel vouchers, has weakened Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s minority government.
Slipper, who stepped aside as speaker of the House of Representatives on May 8, has denied wrongdoing. He is “deeply disturbed and distressed” by the allegations, Bornstein said by video link from Melbourne and called the tactics used by Ashby “an ambush” and “character assassination.”
Ashby is pressing for a speedy trial before a jury, his lawyer Mark Lee told the court -- a move opposed by the government, which is also named in the lawsuit.
Federal Court Justice Steven Rares ordered the parties to exchange information and set the next hearing, which may determine how the case will proceed, for June 15.
Gillard’s government had been relying on Slipper to boost its numbers in the lower house since he defected from the opposition coalition to become speaker in November. The prime minister said last month that a “dark cloud” was hanging over the Australian parliament amid the allegations against Slipper and claims Craig Thomson, a former member of her Labor party, misused a union credit card to pay for prostitutes.
Ashby said in his original application that in his first week working for the speaker in the nation’s capital, Canberra, Slipper insisted he stay at his apartment.
Slipper asked Ashby to massage his neck and after a minute began to moan in a way that “indicated intense sexual pleasure,” according to the complaint. The next day Slipper allegedly called Ashby “a strange one” for showering with the door shut.
Following other incidents and mobile phone text messages, Ashby concluded that Slipper hired him in order to pursue a sexual relationship with him, according to the complaint.
The conduct consisted of sexual harassment, which is illegal under Australia’s Sex Discrimination Act of 1984 and Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Act of 1991, according to the court document.
Ashby has named the government in the lawsuit, claiming it was aware that Slipper had formed a sexual relationship with a male member of his staff in mid-2003. The government failed to take reasonable steps to prevent Slipper from using his office to foster sexual relationships with young male staff members, according to the filing.
Ashby has filed a separate complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission, saying he has been victimized by senior politicians, including Foreign Minister Bob Carr, for lodging the lawsuit against Slipper and the government.
Slipper said in a statement to parliament earlier this month that he was being tried by the media. “I believe I am entitled, like any other person, to have the presumption of innocence,” he said.
The case is: James Hunter Ashby v. The Commonwealth of Australia. NSD580/2012. Federal Court of Australia (Sydney).
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