Pyne admits meeting with Ashby, disputes details
EDUCATION Minister Christopher Pyne now admits he met with Peter Slipper's former advisor James Ashby, refusing to deny that he might have offered the staffer legal and professional support.
During the press conference in Adelaide, Mr Pyne now concedes he met with Mr Ashby before the staffer took Mr Slipper to court for sexual harassment and breach of contract.
Mr Pyne said Mr Ashby admitted to being "uncomfortable" working in Mr Slipper's office, but Mr Pyne said he did not ask why, party because of "rumours that had circulated" about the then-Speaker.
Mr Pyne would not elaborate on these rumours, but they are understood to refer to questions over Mr Slipper's sexuality.
As of last night, Mr Pyne had responded to claims made by Mr Ashby on 60 Minutes by saying he "had no specific knowledge of the allegations made by Mr Ashby".
He maintained that stance under questioning.
Mr Pyne said it was not his intention to have Mr Ashby think he would organise legal representation, as Mr Ashby claimed, but would not deny it occurred.
Mr Pyne also said while he did not believe he threatened to call Mr Ashby a "pathological liar" if their conversation went public, Mr Pyne said ensuring a good working relationship with Mr Slipper was part of his job.
When quizzed on this by journalists, he said, "As the Manager of Opposition Business I had a relationship with the Speaker and his office which was important to maintain".
"If I did make those remarks it would have been to indicate that it would be best if Mr Slipper wasn't aware that his staff was in my office telling me they felt uncomfortable in my office.
"I would not have used that language and I would have indicated that it would affect my relationship with Mr Slipper has the Speaker if that became known."
In relation to whether Mr Pyne ever hinted that a job could be organised for Mr Ashby, Mr Pyne said, he has "lots of conversations with my colleagues" but again, would not deny the allegations.
Mr Pyne also described Mr Ashby's appearance on 60 Minutes as "courageous".
At the time of the meeting, the former Labor Government was relying on Mr Slipper's support as Speaker to ensure Prime Minister Julia Gillard could hold on to power.
The allegations made against Mr Slipper and subsequent court action led him to resign from the Speaker's position in October 2012.
EARLIER: PM backs Ashby, Pyne in case against Slipper
Mr Abbott told reporters on Monday morning that the Peter Slipper affair was a 'particularly squalid'' and "sordid'' affair in Australia's political history.
The Prime Minister said he watched James Ashby's interview on 60 Minutes and had sympathy for the former staffer of the Sunshine Coast based MP.
Mr Abbott was asked about his own earlier statements, and those of Mr Pyne, that he had no specific knowledge of the complaints being made by Mr Ashby.
The PM was then asked whether he had any general knowledge.
He did not answer the question directly, saying instead that: "I certainly stand by everything I have said about it.''
"I am confident Christopher (Pyne) will stand by everything he said about this business.''
Mr Abbott said the key matters at hand were that there were serious allegations of sexual harassments against Mr Slipper which involved "completely inappropriate and despicable behaviour''.
And he said Mr Slipper had been found, by a court, to have misused taxpayers' funds.
He said as far as he was concerned the matters had been dealt with and were now part of history.
Mr Abbott said he believed Mr Ashby's motives were decent in bringing the serious matters about Peter Slipper forward.
"I had a lot of sympathy for him,'' the Prime Minister said.
The Sunshine Coast Daily has raised concerns about Mr Slipper's spending behaviour directly with the Prime Minister during his visits to Queensland.
In 2010, Mr Abbott yesterday said it was "fair and reasonable" that travel expenses be paid for Mr Slipper's travel between the Sunshine Coast and Canberra.
This was despite damning allegations detailed in the Daily at the time.
"Members of parliament are entitled to travel from their place of residence to Canberra for sittings of parliament," Mr Abbott said.
"I'm satisfied (Mr Slipper) has acted within his entitlements. My understanding is that he's acted within his entitlements."
However the Coalition leader said he was not familiar with the details of Mr Slipper's huge travel bills during six months of 2009.
Mr Abbott had pledged to cut waste if elected.
Pyne denies specific knowledge of Ashby case
EDUCATION Minister Christopher Pyne is not calling Peter Slipper's former staffer James Ashby a "pathological liar", but is denying he had any "specific knowledge" of the allegations Mr Ashby would later make against Mr Slipper.
The denial follows an interview Mr Ashby gave to 60 minutes, broadcast on Sunday night.
In the interview, Mr Ashby accused Mr Slipper of sexual harassment - which became the foundation of legal proceedings launched by Mr Ashby - and told of meeting with senior Coalition figures including Sunshine Coast MP Mal Brough and Mr Pyne, now the Federal Education Minister.
Mr Pyne has always maintained he had no specific knowledge of Mr Ashby's case.
The Sunshine Coast staffer told how he took his concerns about Mr Slipper's alleged behaviour to Longman MP Wyatt Roy who then referred him to Mr Pyne.
The 35-year-old gay man kept detailed notes of the conversations and meetings, some of which were shown on the 60 Minutes report.
Mr Ashby said Mr Roy had met with him a second time, giving him paperwork on making the allegations against Mr Slipper formal.
Mr Ashby said Mr Pyne confirmed there would be a job offered and a lawyer would be provided.
As he left Mr Pyne's office, Mr Ashby said the then-Opposition strategist said:
If you discuss or tell anyone we've had this discussion, I'll be forced to come out publicly and call you a pathological liar.
In a statement released on Sunday night, Mr Pyne said:
"All these matters have been aired over and over again for the last three years.
"Mr Slipper has been found guilty of fraud against the taxpayer.
"Mr Ashby settled a sexual harassment case with the Commonwealth.
I had no specific knowledge of the allegations made by Mr Ashby and the first I knew that he was suing Mr Slipper was when I read it in the newspapers.
"This is a dispute between two individuals - not a dispute that includes me or any other member of the government."