Tellingly, in Tuesday’s parliamentary debate about the embattled Mal Brough the government did not put up any senior minister to defend him.
Instead, it was left to an assistant minister, Nationals Darren Chester to try to do the job. The knockabout Chester reached for the Spakfilla, spending his allotted time talking about anything and everything (infrastructure, assorted roads, black spots, Tiger Woods) other than the Special Minister of State, to whom he made no reference at all.
Brough, whose house was recently raided in relation to the murky pursuit of then speaker Peter Slipper in 2012, is targeted daily by shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus.
He’s limping, wounded, to the end of the parliamentary year on Thursday, with his future hanging on the police investigation. No wonder senior ministers don’t want to invest their reputations in him.
Normally you would expect the leader of the house, Christopher Pyne, to be charged with the task, if only for appearance sake. But Pyne, together with Wyatt Roy, now an assistant minister, were also implicated in the Slipper affair.
James Ashby, the Slipper staffer who made allegations of rorting and sexual harassment against him, was reported in The Australian on Tuesday as saying he had approached Roy in 2012, and Roy had sought advice from Pyne. Later Roy “presented me with a sheet of paper with instructions of what I should do, and one of the first steps was to get a copy of the office diary,” Ashby said.
The Slipper diary, it seems, was everyone’s must-have reading.
As he was peppered with another day of questions, Brough tried to play it cool but veered into sarcasm and bad temper. The pressure is telling.
Attention in question time was on whether a federal court judgement had or had not cleared Brough, with Brough and Dreyfus each quoting sections of the judgement to back their respective claims.
As part of his defence Brough, who last year admitted to Nine’s 60 Minutes that he had asked Ashby to obtain extracts of Slipper’s diary, effectively accused the program of misrepresenting him. He told parliament: “what was put to air was not the full question”.
This seems a very dangerous path for Brough to go down. 60 Minutes, which has its own reputation to protect, quickly tweeted out the full question and later produced the transcript. Although it had a jumbled beginning, the relevant question was clear enough, and not distorted by editing.
In the detailed transcript below, Brough appears quite explicit about his conduct and motives.
Q Um why then also did you um assis, seek well, [plane noise] did you ask James Ashby to procure um copies of Peter Slipper’s diary for for you?
M [10:32:19] Yes I did.
Q Why did you do that?
M [10:32:22] Because I believed Peter Slipper had committed a crime. I believed he was defrauding the Commonwealth and the courts have…
Q [10:32:26] When did you become the police?
M [10:32:27] … and the, and the courts have fundamentally [plane noise] have actually now proven that to be the case.
Q [10:32:33] When did you become the police?
M [10:32:35] Well Liz if you don’t think it’s right, if you believe someone’s defrauding someone [noise still] and you have the capacity to uncover that…
Q [10:32:43] Why didn’t you go to the police?
M [10:32:44] [plane louder] I had no evidence.
Q Why didn’t you ask them to investigate? Why did you get James Ashby and his ah colleague to do ah your work for you?
M [10:32:53] Well Liz the fact is that they had been asked via many different media outlets to have the Commonwealth investigate and many people had asked for where Mr Slipper was and why he was in places and we couldn’t get the answers.
Q [10:33:10] So you you decided that it would be appropriate to ah surreptitiously ah procure that information.
M Yeah that’s your call.
Q [10:33:20] Do you feel good about that?
Q Is that the right thing to do?
M [10:33:24] Ah I felt that Mr Slipper had for a very long time done the wrong thing in, in a criminals action and that has proven to be true in a court of law.
Q [10:33:33] Was that the right thing to secretly…
M Well that’s…
Q … get copies of his diary?
M [10:33:36] Liz that’s for others to judge. You can judge and [over talk].
Q [10:33:39] You believe it was the right thing to do.
M [10:33:40] Well I’ll let others to judge that.
Q [10:33:41] You believe it’s the right thing to do?
M I will let others judge that.
Q [10:33:44] Well you did it, does that mean you still believe it was the right thing to do?
M [10:33:48] I will let others judge that.
Q Would you have done it to Tony Abbott who’s had to repay more than ten thousand dollars in travel allowances? Would you have asked for copies of his diary secretly? Would you have done that to Barnaby Joyce?
M [10:34:01] See it’s interesting how we like to draw these analogies when the reality is that one person has been found, found by a court of law to have actually altered documents to create a profit for themselves at the cost of the Commonwealth. No one…
Q [10:34:16] If you, if if you…
Q … thought, if you thought…
M … no one has…
Q … Tony Abbott had been misusing his…
M [10:34:20] … Liz no one has …
Q … travel allowance, would you have asked a member of his staff to …
M [10:34:23] … Liz no one…
Q … surreptitiously get a copy of his diary…
M [10:34:26] Liz no one…
Q … would you have done that?
M [10:34:27] Liz no one is making those suggestions and I think it’s quite wrong of you to make that assumption.
Q [10:34:32] My point is that why would you do that to Peter Slipper in that manner and not do it to others?
M [10:34:39] Because Peter Slipper had been on the public record for year after year of doing things which could not be answered and ultimately the Commonwealth and the taxpayer has been paid and you know if don’t, if we just want to turn a blind eye to these things, well that’s a decision for you.
Q [10:34:58] My point is that you decided to become the police.
M [10:35:00] No I didn’t decide to become the police, I decided to become a concerned…
Q You did the investigation.
M … a concerned individual.
Q [10:35:04] You did the investigation. You didn’t go to the police with certain dates and concerns, you did the investigation yourself.
M [10:35:12] You can draw that conclusion.
Q Well you did.
M [10:35:14] Well you can draw that conclusion Liz, that’s fine.
Q [10:35:17] Well is that appropriate?
M [10:35:17] Oh absolutely it’s appropriate.
Q [10:35:20] You don’t think for a minute that was out of order?
M No I don’t believe that was out of order.
Brough’s behaviour, as he recounted it to 60 Minutes, was obviously out of order. The police are now examining whether it was illegal.