Saturday, 29 September 2012

Rewarding vexatious litigants

Letting the sexual harassment case go to trial would have led to a "lawyers' picnic" that could have extended well into next year the Attorney General informed us as a settlement was announced with House of Representatives Speaker Peter Slipper's staffer James Ashby. And that, of course, would never do. 
The middle of next year would be much too close to election day to risk the Commonwealth Government actually losing. Far better to hand over the $50,000 now and pretend, as Attorney General Nicola Roxon did, that the payment did not mean admitting doing anything wrong. 
On the contrary. Ms Roxon said the government did not resile from its argument "that the claim was vexatious". Better to reward vexatious litigants, apparently, than avaricious lawyers.
Unfortunately for a Labor Government anxious to avoid embarrassment in the run up to a polling day there still remains the main event of Mr Ashby's legal action against the Speaker himself. Ms Roxon made a rather pathetic plea for that case to be abandoned as well but the Ashby lawyers responded with talk of adding a writ for defamation into the mix. Presumably that line of argument will now be abandoned.
Mr Slipper is now left to defend his behaviour towards Mr Ashby all on his own and at his own expense. So far the government has not received a request to cover Mr Slipper's legal costs, but Ms Roxon said back in April that if such a request came forward it would be declined. No wonder that Mr Slipper is clinging to his full salary and expense entitlements as Speaker. He will need every dollar of them plus some I expect.
And as the bill keeps rising for the parliamentary Speaker who no longer appears in the parliamentary chamber the potential electoral damage for Labor rises as well.
Appointing Mr Slipper is one of those "seemed a good idea at the time" decisions that won't appear so when the votes are finally counted.
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