Ashbygate

james ashbyIf there is a controversial figure its James Ashby who has been slammed by almost every media outlet and almost every One Nation candidate past or present. His trail of bad taste in peoples mouths extends into many political parties. His behaviour and conduct has not untied anyone, but been divisive> The crazy part of it is that Pauline Hanson, in spite of the uproar within the party and the general dissatisfaction with Ashby she refuses to dump him. It has been clearly evident of late that many will go independent as soon as elected. I personally speak to many candidates and know for fact at least 6 will go independent. Thats why One nation tried to pull this stunt of $250,000 surety bond with candidates. Thats how worried they are, considering the way candidates have been treated they have to be worried. Ashbys track record of abusive phone calls is well known and mentioned below. It is considered by many that Ashby will be the downfall of One Nation.

This is from the Australian newspaper

In quiet moments, James Ashby has been known to wonder whether he would have been better off staying on the strawberry farm at Beerwah in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. His friend Val Bradford, the woman who started him out in politics with Queensland’s Liberal National Party, told him not to go near that man, the local federal MP Peter Slipper, and then sighed in heartfelt resignation when he became chief adviser to a battle-scarred Pauline Hanson three years later. While admiring what he has achieved, Bradford suspects Ashby would be happier with a simpler life.

But that’s not Ashby’s way. Never has been, probably never will be. There are those who say he is like a shark, perpetually in motion, scheming, plotting, his eye on the next chance. In barely half a decade in politics he’s been instrumental in bringing down a Speaker of parliament, Slipper – and in the fallout inadvertently destroying the comeback to office of former cabinet minister Mal Brough. Few advisers have stirred such controversy or divided opinion more sharply.

Those close to him, however, insist he is nothing like the calculating operator he has been made out to be: to them, he is “our James”, charming, chatty, funny, loyal. “I worry about him,” says ­Bradford, 78. “I’ve always found him to be a decent person. He comes from a good family; he is interesting, he’s very interested in other people.” She pauses, gathering her thoughts. “But I have felt sorry for him at times. The things that have ­happened… turned James into a different person.”

Smooth-faced at 37, whippet thin and by reputation whip smart, Ashby is said to be the brains behind Hanson and her resurgent One Nation party. When just about everyone had given up on her, he filled her diary with media appearances and told her to smile when the tough questions came. Tapping his experience in regional radio, he ­committed the threadbare party to an expensive regional advertising campaign in Queensland. It helped propel Hanson and a running mate, Malcolm Roberts, into the Senate last July, along with candidates from NSW and Western Australia.

Yet to the acute frustration of the Canberra insiders who need to take Ashby’s measure, few beyond a protective inner circle know what he is really like. What’s now dubbed “Ashbygate” – his pursuit of Slipper for alleged sexual harassment, a long and messy case described by then prime minister Tony Abbott as a “squalid, sordid, miserable period in our national life” – took a heavy personal toll. The outgoing young man people would quickly warm to is a closed book. He works 80-hour weeks and is obsessively private. His ­reputation, however, is larger than life.

In crediting him for her success, Hanson has referred to Ashby as her adopted son (“I can’t sack him, he’s too valuable,” she recently voiced), while her embittered former friend and ally of two ­decades, Ian Nelson, calls him the “anti-Christ” of politics and warns he will destroy her and the party.

Internally, One Nation is divided over the power he wields as His Mistress’s Voice. Ashby is the gatekeeper to Hanson and the crucial bloc of votes she controls in the Senate. When the ­Government wants to talk terms on its legislative program, he is on speed dial for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s emissaries. One way or another, a lot is being said about him.

He professes to hate the attention. His only comment on the record for this story is: “I am not the story – Pauline is the story.” This is exactly what political staff are meant to say; the orthodoxy is that when they make the headlines, it’s time to go. Yet Hanson has stuck fast, defending Ashby in public when he was accused of hurling a phone at a female colleague in a fit of pique, and she has ruthlessly cut loose those in the party who dare to criticise him.

Ashby tells journalists they need to earn his respect if they want their calls returned, which they do, because he is at the centre of one of the biggest political stories going. One Nation defines the ­dissenting spirit of the age, repudiating the elites and established order. Yet if it is to shake off a ­dysfunctional past and provide Hanson with the stable platform she needs, it will be up to Ashby to mortar over the cracks that crisscross the shaky edifice. Her success will then become his.

Give Ashby his due: he always seems to have known the score. In one of their now-infamous text exchanges from October 2011, when Slipper was buttering him up to join his personal staff, dropping the C-word in reference to an LNP rival and making crude comments about women’s genitals, Ashby explained that he didn’t want offensive comments attached to him online, in case he ever ran for a seat in parliament. Slipper: “You are a bad boy indeed! And your honesty is refreshing in my world where duplicity seems sadly to be the order of the day!”

Ashby: “I think I’ll either be badly burnt in politics or do very well.”

It’s been a tough 12 months for Val Bradford after two rounds of surgery and recuperation. She doesn’t get out and about on the Sunshine Coast as much as she used to. Still, the politics bug is hard to shake. She has been involved in the Queensland National Party and its successor, the LNP, for nearly 40 years, and is founder and chairwoman of the LNP’s Beerwah-Mooloolah branch.

Her little group gets together every two months on a Thursday night, and Bradford seldom misses a meeting. People like her are the heart and soul of a political party: they operate in the grassroots, not the marbled halls of power. She writes the local newsletter and encourages small businesses to donate. When an election rolls around, she helps arrange volunteers for letterbox drops and polling booths. She is also a talent spotter for the LNP: back in 2010, when Ashby was marketing manager of Gowinta Farms at Beerwah, she noted approvingly how he knew the who’s who of the local council and MPs. Smiling and ­happy-go-lucky, he would conduct tractor tours of the big strawberry and pineapple growing operation. Bradford knew his mother, Colleen, a popular local hairdresser. As a boy, James had wanted to be on the radio, not in politics. Music was his passion: classical, disco, you name it. His three sisters would tease him about a “half-arsed” attempt to learn the piano.

He had wanted to leave school early but his ­parents wouldn’t allow it. After completing year 12, he did some on-air work for community radio in Buderim, then landed a paying job with a commercial station in Roma, six hours’ drive to the west. But the 40ºC-plus heat was too much and he lasted barely six weeks. He returned to the Sunshine Coast, got a shot at the breakfast shift on ­Rockhampton’s Sea FM – which he left after falling out with a manager and being told he’d never work in radio again – and pitched up at the top-rating Triple M Brisbane. Talk about constant motion.

By 2002, he was drive host “Jimmy” on Newcastle’s NXFM. Again there was trouble. Ashby clashed with a rival broadcaster, Paul Fidler (a.k.a. Jim ­Morrison at NEWFM), and made abusive calls to Fidler at home. The police got involved. Although Ashby claimed it had been a prank, Fidler didn’t accept his apology; he said Ashby had threatened him and he was afraid to go out. Ashby was charged with using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence, fined $2060 and put on a three-year good behaviour bond. Contritely, he told website radioinfo.com.au: “Just need to be a good boy for the next three years. That means if I upset you, just smack me out, don’t file a law suit.”

After moving to Townsville, he set up a printing business, which turned into another drama when regional internet provider Rawnet hit the wall in 2007, owing the company thousands for brochures. The job at Gowinta Farms must have felt like a ­respite. Owner Len Smith still speaks glowingly of Ashby, who was there from 2009 to 2011. “Good, reliable bloke,” he remembers.

In addition to running the marketing and PR, Ashby did the rounds of the local politicians while lobbying to protect Smith’s water licences (a change in the rules in Victoria had spooked the farmer, and he wanted to head off any such move in Queensland). The backbiting antics of the LNP MPs would have provided a masterclass in the political dark arts. Slipper held the federal, Sunshine Coast-based seat of Fisher and was locked in a bitter feud with fellow Liberal Alex Somlyay in neighbouring Fairfax. At the state level, a long-serving Labor government was on its last legs under Anna Bligh, giving rise to feverish jockeying for LNP preselection. When Brough (one of the big-name Liberal casualties in the 2007 election that demolished John Howard’s 11-year government) moved to the area it was clear something was on: the membership of Bradford’s sleepy branch doubled. At her urging, Ashby was among those who signed on.

Soon, he was attracting notice. Her patronage would have opened doors for him. By early 2011, Slipper was dropping by the farm to chat and pick up strawberries. Ashby was chummy with an intern in Slipper’s office, Rhys Reynolds; a firm friendship was sealed when Ashby agreed to help Reynolds run (unsuccessfully) for a seat on the local council.

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