Hard to see how Ashby, a man of thirty-four, can make a charge of harassment stick on the basis of his evidence, which is very bad dialogue indeed. Like ‘Look, look, I’m titty-fucking your mother’, it resembles nothing said by any human being since early Pleistocene times.
‘Have you ever come in a man’s arse before?’ is something Slipper is said to have said over morning coffee to a presumed heterosexual. The operative word is ‘before’, which means, must mean, that Ashby has come in a man’s arse quite recently. It cannot be read in any another way, in my view. If he had said, or have been reported to have said, ‘Have you come in a man’s arse?’, this would be a reasonable thing to ask if one were a homosexual talking to another homosexual, or bisexual, over coffee in the morning. But ‘before’ can only mean he, or they, have just done it. Very hard to read in any other way. In my view.
Ashby’s alleged response, ‘That’s not the kind of question you ask people, Peter’, supports, I think, this conjecture. The answer of an aghast heterosexual would have been ‘no’, followed by the knocking over of the chair as he left in a huff the anxious yearning predator in the coffee shop and paid the bill and hailed a taxi. It’s like a question I once put to a woman I knew well who had been married thirty odd years. ‘Have you ever had an affair?’ I asked, sensing something in her demeanour that hinted this. ‘I can’t answer that, Bob,’ she said, extremely pissed off. Which meant the answer was yes.
If Ashby is a practising homosexual, and he accepted work in the office of a man who was married but known, or widely rumoured, to be a closeted, or cautious, or wide-ranging secret homosexual and did so at the age of thirty-four, it is reasonable I think to ask, was an office wooing like this always thought by him to be out of the question? Many, many marriages, after all, have started in precisely this way. Many, many doctors have married nurses after workplace encounters and a fumble at the Christmas party, or even, as MASH attests, in the surgery. Offices are intimate places, and things happen.
What, then, is the charge precisely? That he was threatened with the sack if he did not come across? Nothing in the emails suggests this. That he came banging at the door at midnight? This is not alleged. That he hinted some things in texts and emails? Shock horror.
I think, but of course I do not know, that it might have been different had he been eighteen; or, let’s face it, fourteen. Then his employer could have been seen to be using the power of his office in a coercive or a bullying way; like, say, Charlie Chaplin over his teenage leading ladies.
But a man with homosexual experience who is already thirty-four — at his age the flamboyant bisexual Lord Byron had only eighteen months to live — expects to be come onto, surely, from time to time, depending on how he dresses, moves and speaks. And expects, in return, to have the right to say no; which Slipper, though persistent (if his account is true) did not deny him, the right of refusal, or so I thus far understand.
The Liberals are ill-advised to take this on. The personality of Christopher Pyne, and Billy McMahon, and the former Deputy Leader Neil Brown, suggest, but do not prove, there may have been similar wooings in MPs’ offices in the past. And this may come out now, inconveniently.
It also ill accords with Tony Abbott’s recent genial acceptance of his own sister’s life choices despite his Church’s insistence that she must repent, or fry in Hell. And his own daughters’ characterisation of him, for whatever jokey private reason, as a ‘lame gay churchy loser’.
It is not a good time, I would think, for him of all people to seem to be a hypocrite.
Some knives are being sharpened, and his own chequered sexual history, including when he was a trainee priest (as discussed in Michael Duffy’s book) will tell against him.
He should be careful, very careful.
And so it goes.