Probe backs Tony Abbott over the timing of his statement on Peter Slipper case
- BY:DAVID CROWE
- From:The Australian
- December 17, 2012
GOVERNMENT officials have backed Tony Abbott's explanation about the timing of his statement on sexual harassment allegations against former speaker Peter Slipper, amid questions over how much the Opposition Leader knew of the claims.
The department that runs parliamentary computer systems acknowledged today that the “date stamp” on Mr Abbott's statement was incorrect, debunking one of the claims being circulated online against him.
The concerns centre on a press release issued by Mr Abbott's office on Saturday April 21, when newspapers reported that Mr Slipper's staffer, James Ashby, had lodged a sexual harassment claim against him in the Federal Court.
News of the claim was reported by journalist Steve Lewis in The Daily Telegraph and The Herald Sun on the Saturday. Some reports went online at midnight the previous evening, including a brief report in The Australian.
While Mr Abbott's staff member sent the press release at 9.17am on the Saturday, an analysis of the time stamp on the PDF document suggested that it was created at 11.08pm on Friday night.
Labor MPs seized on the apparent discrepancy to suggest that Mr Abbott knew in advance that Mr Ashby was preparing his claim, and was therefore implicated in the actions to bring down Mr Slipper.
A Federal Court judge last week threw out Mr Ashby's claim against Mr Slipper, finding he had worked in combination with former Howard minister and Queensland LNP candidate Mal Brough to try to inflict political damage on the then speaker.
Mr Abbott has consistently denied that he had any “specific knowledge” of the matter prior to its appearance in the press and denies there was a Coalition conspiracy against Mr Slipper, who resigned as speaker in October, and the Gillard government.
When questions over Mr Abbott's statement arose, the Opposition Leader's staff said the time stamp on their computer system had been out by about 10 hours.
Labor supporters questioned the claim on the internet and some bloggers went into more detail, alleging Mr Abbott was involved in a wider conspiracy.
The Department of Parliamentary Services, however, has now backed Mr Abbott's explanation, after The Australian raised the issue.
“The date stamp on the document in question is incorrect,” said a DPS spokeswoman.
“The press release was created on the 21 April, 2012.
“DPS technical staff can see that the original Word document was saved at 9.07am on April 21, 2012 (AEST).
“The document was converted to a PDF at 9.08am on April 21, 2012 (AEST).
“The time on the date stamp is 10 hours behind AEST due to a technical problem.”
While one blog claimed that a timing error of this kind would have brought the network down, the DPS spokeswoman made no mention of a wider failure.
The same timing problem occurred with other documents created on the computer in the Opposition Leader's office, she said.
“DPS is still investigating the cause,” the spokeswoman said.
“This is the first time a problem with date stamps on documents has been brought to the attention of DPS.”
DPS said that Mr Abbott's office contacted the DPS Help Desk regarding the issue last Thursday, just as speculation swirled about the timing of the press release.