Please @turnbullmalcolm don’t soil new era with #Ashbygate liar @MalBrough_MP: @margokingston1 comments

What? Mal Brough is our Special Minister of State? Excuse me?

Like so many Australians, I was filled with an unbearable lightness of being on the removal of Tony Abbott and with hope that a new era of honest, policy-based politics had begun.

Yes, there was a little niggle when I saw Brough alongside Turnbull in the walk to the party room, but no, he’d never be promoted, surely.

I tweeted concern, though, when it was reported that he’d helped do Mr Turnbull’s numbers:

But Brough went unmentioned in the pre-reshuffle reporting, so imagine my surprise, no, horror, when he was appointed Special Minister of State, the minister for honest politics! Huh?

Yet no-one, NO-ONE, in the Press Gallery mentioned his intimate involvement in the hottest political story of 2012, the sexual harassment legal action by James Ashby against Peter Slipper, an action thrown out of Court for abuse of process, then dropped by Ashby after the appeal court ordered it be decided on the merits. Slipper was ruined, and Ashby ordered to pay costs.

In the wash-up, two out of four federal court judges found Brough had been engaged in a conspiracy to bring down the government through legal action.

But the guts of Brough’s disqualification for ever being a minister again was that he lied about his involvement, over and over, and did his best to avoid answering questions, time after time.

In May 2012, he denied as “nonsense” the claim that he had any prior knowledge of court proceedings by Ashby. In June, after being outed, he said he did meet with Ashby about legal action but spoke to no-one in the Coalition about the matter. This was quickly exposed as a lie by court documents which showed he was a key player in the Ashby plan for legal action and had tried to get him a job in the Liberal Party.

In September 2014, A 60 Minutes interview with Ashby forced him to admit he was the person codenamed ‘Jackie’ in text message trails who organised legal advice, and that Brough had procured Ashby to steal Slipper’s travel diary and send him excerpts:

Liz Hayes:  “Did you ask James Ashby to procure copies of Peter Slipper’s diary for you?”

Mal Brough: “Yes I did.”

Labor backbencher Graham Perrett immediately wrote to the AFP urging it to investigate a possible crime.

After seven years’ retirement from political journalism, I returned to the fray in late 2012, flummoxed that amid Tony Abbott’s campaign to discredit Julia Gillard over a very old Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) slush fund story, the Press Gallery had completely forgotten that Abbott himself had lied about his involvement in bringing court action to destroy Pauline Hanson, which ultimately saw her jailed in 2003 before the judgement was overturned. His ‘Australians for Honest Politics’ slush fund saw ten people anonymously donate to bring her down in the courts, and he refused point-blank to disclose his donors to the Australian Electoral Commission.

Michelle Grattan was the only journo to publicly admit to forgetfulness, and despite my best efforts, the Press Gallery did not raise the issue with Abbott.

When Abbott’s honest politics lies and secrecy was hot in 2003, the press gallery closed ranks to protect their man. Part of the reason was that they thought he’d done the right thing and thus forgave his serial lies to the ABC and The Sydney Morning Herald that he was not involved in the legal action; and part of the reason, in my view, is that he was a good source.

In an eerie parallel, after splashing Ashby’s legal action around in 2012, the press gallery failed to pursue the explosive Federal Court judgement on the matter, much to the chagrin of Twitter and legal affairs commentator Richard Ackland. Yes, the judgement was late in the year and holidays beckoned, but the main factor, in my opinion, is that the story did not fit the prevailing narrative of an on-the-nose government and a dominant opposition. It was left to Twitter, an Ashbygate Trust formed with $50,000 donations, the website Independent Australia and Brough’s local paper The Sunshine Coast Daily to investigate.

And now, so very strangely, Brough’s unacceptable history is ignored by the Press Gallery on his promotion. It really can’t be forgetfulness this time, so why? I can’t help thinking it’s a narrative issue again. The narrative is the ascent of Turnbull and a brand new government. Gallery journalists are adjusting their work to accommodate a new power structure and new sources. They don’t want to disturb the narrative or cruel their chances of being the favoured recipients of stories.

And so it was left to Twitter, again. The hashtag #Ashbygate trended in Australia after the ministerial announcement, and Independent Australia told the story. Brough was interviewed by the 7.30 Report without mention of his history. Turnbull was not asked to justify his choice as Special Minister of State.

Only Emma Alberici questioned Brough, on Lateline on Monday night, and yet again he obfuscated. Remember that admission on 60 Minutes? Here’s what he said Tuesday night:

Alberici: “You asked Peter Slipper’s staffer James Ashby to make copies of Peter Slipper’s private diary. Was that appropriate?”

Brough: “No, that’s not correct. I mean, I know that that’s what’s been reported, but that is not exactly the right description of what occurred. But what I can tell you is that I stand by every action that I’ve taken …”

Alberici: “What part of what I just said then was not accurate?”

Brough: “Well all of these matters have been canvassed and dealt with by the courts, not that I was ever involved …”

Alberici: “But you’ve previously admitted that you asked for the procurement of those diaries. You’ve admitted on the public record.”

Brough: “When you ask me a question, I’m trying to give you a straight answer …”

To my mind, it is fundamental to the political journalist’s role to ensure if at all possible that a politician caught consistently lying to the people is not permitted to take a prominent role in our nation’s affairs. We must do our best to make that politician, and politicians who promote him despite their record, accountable.

It is obvious to me that Mal Brough is an unacceptable choice to be Special Minister of State responsible for entitlements, political staffers and electoral matters. Perhaps an admission of deceit, a full explanation of what happened and a promise to be truthful in future might help; but Mal Brough will have none of that and hopes his past is forgotten. The Press Gallery is abetting him, and Mr Turnbull, to do just that.

The Ashby scandal was one of the nastiest episodes in Mr Abbott’s nasty record as opposition leader and Prime Minister, and now it haunts the new government and shames the Press Gallery once again. Such a pity.

No Fibs #Ashbygate archive

The Press Gallery was stung into action after the Alberici interview. The AFP is still investigating Brough.

Support an independent media voice. Support No Fibs Citizen Journalism.
Monthly Donation


  1. Marian Rumens says

    Mal Brough has form as a liar. As Indigenous Affairs Minister, he said there is evidence of pedophile rings in Aboriginal communities. When he was challenged, he produced a witness who said he was a youth worker. It was later discovered that the ‘youth worker’ was in fact Gregory Andrews, assistant secretary in the Office of Indigenous policy coordination advising Mal Brough.

  2. Agreed Margo Kingston the press gallery have failed on this issue. They have failed the public and democracy also.

    Another instance of press gallery failure was the investigation into fraud by Kathy Jackson against the HSU. It was up to independent journalist Peter Wicks Wixxyleaks to investigate ‘whistleblower’ Kathy Jackson because the press gallery were so busy chasing Craig Thompson.

    Mike Seccombe’s said recently on Insiders
    that he was shocked to hear that Kathy Jackson had been found guilty of fraud against the HSU because “We all thought Kathy Jackson was a hero at the time”.,8090

    Perhaps the press gallery have, for whatever reason, allowed themselves to become too close to certain politicians and political parties causing them to loose perspective and objectivity. Thank you Margo, David Donovan from Independent Australia and Peter Wicks from Wixxyleaks for seeking and speaking the truth. Our democracy depends on it!

  3. I was surprised too when Mal Brough was appointed to this ministry at the last minute so was Wyatt Roy.another one who advice’ d Slipper to go to Mal Brough. of what to do. there are a whole lot involved in this Ashby gate ,
    Christopher Pyne too.

  4. It must be hard for you to watch the demise of strong, independent journalism in the MSM,Margo!! Thank heavens we’ve had your voice back the last few years. The fact that Brough, after all the lies, and dirty play, is promoted to a very powerful position in the Govt speaks volumes about the integrity of current politicians that this is acceptable let alone the journalists who are there to report fearlessly & honestly to the people. Thank you again Margo, you’re a national treasure!

  5. Margo,
    Thank Christ we have people of the calibre and skill like you that can lay it right up these scumbags

  6. Whether he knows it or not Malcolm Turnbull has welded together social media into pushing Ashbygate onto the public arena with a renewed vigor
    Abbott backers will also add their lot of misery onto Turnbull and what cats they let out will only be tempered by Murdoch`s editors

  7. I have dealt with Mal Brough face to face when he was the Member for Longman, he is a man obsessed with himself and the lerks and perks of Public Office, he finds it incapable of even pretending to be engaged with voters within the community. Turnbull has really left his flank open by rewarding a man that has admitted to thievery for his own ends, and that appalling menu at a Liberal fund raiser, reap what you sew Malcolm Turnbull.

  8. Neil Forscutt says

    Maybe Turnbull is organising retribution his way.

    By keeping Pyne, elavating Wyatt and Brough, is his method of alerting the media.