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Brough denies approaching Palmer to fund Ashb -

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MARK COLVIN: The former Howard government minister and Coalition candidate, Mal Brough, has again flatly denied approaching the millionaire Clive Palmer to fund a legal case against his political rival.

Mr Palmer said today that Mr Brough had indeed approached him to fund James Ashby's sexual harassment case against the former parliamentary speaker, Peter Slipper.

In dismissing that case late last year a Federal Court judge ruled that Mr Ashby was working with Mal Brough to damage Mr Slipper's reputation.

Mal Brough and James Ashby reject that and the Federal Court decision is subject to appeal.

From Canberra, Naomi Woodley reports.

NAOMI WOODLEY: The allegation that Clive Palmer was asked to help fund James Ashby's sexual harassment case is not a new one.

The former speaker and subject of Mr Ashby's claim, Peter Slipper, raised it under parliamentary privilege in June as he delivered a pre-emptive valedictory speech.

PETER SLIPPER: About Easter last year Mr Brough, accompanied by the member for North Sydney, came to see Mr Palmer to ask him to fund James Ashby's legal fees.

NAOMI WOODLEY: At the time the member for North Sydney, Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey, flatly denied that James Ashby's case was discussed at all during the cup of coffee he had with Clive Palmer and Mal Brough.

Mr Palmer says he's restated the claim today - in part to be fair to Mr Hockey, and in part to "clear the air" ahead of the election.

CLIVE PALMER: I just want to make it absolutely clear: I think I've got a moral duty and a responsibility to Mr Hockey and his family and indeed the Liberal Party to make it absolutely clear that Mr Hockey played no role in these discussions - that he walked past at the end of our discussion with Mal Brough and merely sat down and had a coffee.

NAOMI WOODLEY: But Clive Palmer says Mal Brough did approach him: to first of all employ some staff, and when he refused to do that he was asked to fund the legal case.

CLIVE PALMER: It wasn't a matter that I thought involved my interest, and I didn't think the case against Mr Slipper was sustainable, and I had really no interest in it one way or another.

NAOMI WOODLEY: He says Mr Brough's intentions were clear.

CLIVE PALMER: Mal Brough said to me that it was important that the Liberal Party should win the seat of Fisher, and he said to me that we needed to destroy Peter Slipper. He said that he had all the evidence that would put Slipper away for a long time.

NAOMI WOODLEY: That's drawn a swift denial from Mal Brough, who's running against Mr Slipper for his Queensland seat of Fisher.

MAL BROUGH: This is an event that occurred 17 months ago, and now two weeks from polling day, Mr Palmer has decided that his recollection has changed, and his story has changed. I remind everyone that I am standing in this seat as a candidate. Mr Palmer is also a candidate, in his words, "to be prime minister". He also has his resort manager running against me.

NAOMI WOODLEY: He says at the meeting in question they did discuss the Ashby case and whether Clive Palmer would employ another staff member of Mr Slipper's. But Mal Brough says he never asked for funding, and never said he wanted to "destroy" Mr Slipper.

MAL BROUGH: Mr Palmer has had incredibly inconsistency on this story. I can draw your attention to what he had to say in the Sunshine Coast Daily, where he makes it very clear: Palmer denies confirming approach on the Ashby payment. That's dated the 29th of June.

NAOMI WOODLEY: Peter Slipper, who only announced last week that he would recontest his seat, says Mr Brough should resign as the LNP's candidate.

PETER SLIPPER: Clive Palmer is not someone who has anything to gain by making this particular statement. What he's done is to clear the air, I commend him for it, and it now puts Mal Brough in the position of having no option other than to stand down as a candidate for the September 7 poll. And if he refuses to stand down, then the Liberal National Party - if it's consistent - ought to disendorse him as its candidate for Fisher.

NAOMI WOODLEY: Mal Brough says he won't comment on statements made by his opponent.

For his part, James Ashby has released a statement saying at no time did he ask Mal Brough or anyone else to fund his case. He says it is being paid for by his lawyers.

MARK COLVIN: Naomi Woodley.