Ashbygate critics owe Mal Brough an apology
SUNSHINE Coast MP Mal Brough has every right to feel totally vindicated by a court of appeal decision which clears him over wrongdoing in the James Ashby affair.
And James Ashby has every right to have his case against Peter Slipper heard in court - free of the political process - and online activists.
In the lead-up to the last federal election, Mr Brough was the target of a vicious campaign by the so-called Ashbygate crusaders who maintained the former Howard Government minister was part of a conspiracy to bring down Mr Slipper.
What is beyond dispute is that Mr Slipper was involved in some scandalous text messages to Mr Ashby, a young male member of his staff.
Back in July last year, I wrote an opinion piece saying the damning findings by Federal Court Justice Steven Rares raised serious questions about Mr Brough's pre-selection by the LNP.
It was based solely on the findings of the court, as I explained to an angry Brough who rang me to complain about the piece.
Today, given the new court findings, I am obliged and happy to say I was wrong, as were others in the media.
Mr Brough certainly has plenty of enemies, including within the LNP, but he deserves to now get on with the job of representing the Sunshine Coast.
Given the lack of focus on the Coast by his neighbouring MP Clive Palmer, this region needs every bit of voice it can get.
Mr Brough has always vehemently maintained he was only helping Mr Ashby, after he came to him with serious sexual harassment complaints against Mr Slipper.
The appeal court agreed Mr Brough was likely ''seeking to help a young and inexperienced staffer in distress'' rather than plotting the downfall of the then speaker.
It is only fair that it we put on record the comments the appeal judges made about Mr Brough - just as we did when Justice Rares made adverse findings against him.
"We are also of the opinion that there was no basis for the primary judge to conclude that Brough was part of any combination with anyone in respect to the commencement of these proceedings with the predominant purpose of damaging Slipper in the way alleged or at all,'' the judges found.
" Ashby was persuaded to contact Brough by Bradford.
"Despite Brough's hesitation at seeing Ashby he did so and referred him to Russell QC. There is absolutely nothing untoward about those matters. That he was the recipient of copies of some of Slipper's dairy entries does not convert what he did in referring Ashby to Russell QC into something sinister.
"Beyond this referral there is no evidence which links Brough in any way to the decision by Ashby to commence proceedings or as to what claims would be made in any such proceedings.
" Evidence that Brough had an "animus" toward Slipper does not alter this conclusion.
" Ashby's unchallenged sworn testimony was that he was not commenting his action at the instigation or behest of any member of parliament, State or Federal, or any political party.
"This evidence is neither inherently improbably nor do we consider that it is contradicted by other evidence.
"For reasons we have explained, Ashby, on the face of it, pursued alternative approaches to deal with his complaints: one legal and the other political.
"He wanted vindication of his legal rights but also wanted to stop Slipper hurting other staff.
"There is no reason to think that seeking that second objective politically, including providing excerpts from Slipper's diary, was either wrong or necessarily meant that his predominant purpose in bringing the proceedings was to harm Slipper.
" Slipper withdew an allegation he had made in the proceedings that what Ashby had done in relation to his diaries was unlawful.''
It will be interesting to see what those behind the Ashbygate campaign have to say about all this now.
Comments have been disabled on this story as the matters are still before the courts