Pauline Hanson’s right hand man has suffered a court blow as he pursues the federal government for $4.5 million over a sexual harassment claim.
Pauline Hanson’s right hand man has suffered a court blow as he pursues the federal government for $4.5 million over a sexual harassment claim.

Court blow for Pauline Hanson staffer

Pauline Hanson's right hand man has failed to overturn a federal government decision refusing to pay him $4.5 million in legal costs over a lapsed sexual harassment claim filed against the former Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The decision declining to pay the whopping sum to the One Nation leader's chief of staff James Ashby holds up on review, a judge ruled on Friday.

But another aspect of the controversial staffer's argument - that the refusal was a breach of the Fair Work Act - is yet to be determined.

The $4.5 million claim has its origins in a significant political scandal that occurred nearly a decade ago as the minority Gillard government battled to maintain control of the parliament.

Mr Ashby was previously employed by Mr Slipper, a former federal MP who defected from the Coalition to be installed as speaker of the House of Representatives by the Labor Party in 2011.

Mr Ashby filed a lawsuit in April 2012 alleging Mr Slipper had sexually harassed him via text messages and lewd remarks.

Former MP Peter Slipper defected from the Coalition and was installed as Speaker of the House of Representatives by the Labor Party in 2011.
Former MP Peter Slipper defected from the Coalition and was installed as Speaker of the House of Representatives by the Labor Party in 2011.

Mr Slipper denied the allegations and said Mr Ashby was trying to damage his political career and reputation. He resigned as Speaker in October 2012.

A judge agreed Mr Ashby's lawsuit was an "abuse of process" and dismissed the claim, but that decision was overturned on appeal and the case sent back for another hearing, which never happened.

Mr Ashby abandoned the lawsuit in June 2014.

James Ashby is the chief of staff to One Nation leader Pauline Hanson. Picture: Tricia Watkinson
James Ashby is the chief of staff to One Nation leader Pauline Hanson. Picture: Tricia Watkinson

The Commonwealth made a "grace payment" to Mr Slipper covering his legal costs, but the same was not extended to Mr Ashby, who racked up a $3.67 million legal bill.

In 2018, he asked the federal government for $4.5 million to cover his costs and those of his solicitor.

But the request was rejected.

A delegate of the Finance Minister wrote last year Mr Ashby had chosen to sue despite other options being open to him, and that it was ultimately his job to manage his legal costs.

James Ashby’s claim against Peter Slipper was dismissed, then overturned on appeal, before he abandoned the lawsuit.
James Ashby’s claim against Peter Slipper was dismissed, then overturned on appeal, before he abandoned the lawsuit.

"Mr Ashby's position, as the instigator of the legal action, is not analogous to that of Mr Slipper," the June 2020 reasons read.

"While Mr Ashby may have sought redress through other mechanisms, Mr Slipper was required to respond to the legal action once it was instigated by Mr Ashby."

The delegate also noted Mr Slipper's payment was made in lieu of management liability insurance unavailable to MPs at the time the case was filed.

In a ruling handed down on Friday, Justice Robert Bromwich found the decision not to pay Mr Ashby $4.5 million was solid on review.

The delegate did not fail to properly consider Mr Ashby's claim he was a whistle blower, the judge found.

Nor were they wrong to conclude there was no evidence the proceedings had become "highly political".

Justice Bromwich also rejected an argument that the delegate had not been authorised to refuse the grace payment.

He ordered lawyers for Mr Ashby and the Commonwealth to discuss how the Fair Work aspect of the case should proceed.

Originally published as Court blow for Pauline Hanson staffer



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