Boozy night ends in whispers of sleaze
The NSW press gallery parliamentary Christmas party is known as a jovial affair — an event in the last sitting week each November for politicians from both sides of the fence and journalists to let their hair down.
Until this year when the Martin Place Bar was shut down to build a metro station, revellers would descend on the pub from the party when it wrapped up about 9pm, usually well lubricated from the free grog in the parliament.
In 2016, the then premier Mike Baird handed out awards taking the mickey out of the journos at the party then retired inside to the bar before leaving about 11pm.
Outside in the smoking area was a number of journalists, including the ABC’s Ashleigh Raper and Sean Nicholls, and current Treasurer Dominic Perrottet.
Only Nicholls witnessed what allegedly led to Luke Foley’s downfall.
As Raper described it so graphically yesterday: “Later in the evening, Luke Foley approached a group of people, including me, to say goodnight. “He stood next to me. “He put his hand through a gap in the back of my dress and inside my underpants. He rested his hand on my buttocks.
“I completely froze. This was witnessed by Sean Nicholls, who was then the state political editor at the Sydney Morning Herald and is now an ABC journalist.
“Mr Foley then left the bar. Sean and I discussed what happened. As shaken as I was, I decided not to take any action and asked Sean to keep the events in the strictest confidence. He has honoured that.”
Foley has denied the claims and says he will sue in the Federal Court.
It took 13 months for this story to leak, but when it did it was courtesy of Nicholls to a Liberal politician. He did not provide the full detail — just that there was an allegation involving Foley and an ABC journalist.
The story came to me in February. It took me until April to find out the journalist concerned.
I became aware that another ABC journalist had attempted to
encourage Raper to talk about the alleged incident and she had considered it.
When I saw Raper in the corridors of parliament in April, I put the allegation directly to her.
She just kept telling me that she could not comment and to go to ABC Media.
I understand Raper has agonised over the decision to go public for months.
One major consideration for her was that Foley might sue her if she came forward. With Foley’s statement last night, that now looks possible.
His denials in recent weeks have upset and angered her, friends have told me.
When I first raised the allegation with Foley’s chief of staff, Chris Willis, in May, Willis proceeded to bag Raper, saying that she had told journalists at the bar “let’s go to Frankie’s” to party on at the rock and roll bar Frankie’s Pizza, another place frequented by the pollies and journos.
He also bagged another female journalist, whom I named incorrectly as a witness.
It was clear right from the moment that Raper said “no comment, talk to ABC Media” and the ABC Media department did the same that the allegation had to be taken seriously.
At first, in May, Willis told me Foley “couldn’t remember” the night.
Then a firmer phone call in the afternoon, with the chief of staff telling me if I printed he would sue.
The Australian reported in May: “In recent days, a Labor figure met a Liberal minister to inform him of a rumour concerning Mr Foley and his alleged behaviour towards an ABC journalist.
“The journalist had complained to colleagues about the way they were treated by Mr Foley at the Martin Place Bar after the 2016 parliamentary press gallery Christmas party.
“When contacted, the journalist declined to comment and referred The Weekend Australian to the ABC. An ABC spokesman also declined to comment, as did Mr Foley.
“On Thursday, at a function at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Mr Foley told Tourism Minister Adam Marshall that ‘ People are out to get me’.”
When David Elliott got up under parliamentary privilege last month and said “I haven’t had a little bit too much to drink at a party and harassed an ABC journalist”, the whole thing blew up.
But it also seemed, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian in serious danger of losing the election, that some Liberals were determined to get the dirt out there.
Foley told one government staffer in the lift: “A lot of your blokes better be having frank conversations with their wives tonight.”
This was a man under serious pressure.
Labor members started doing the numbers in case they had to roll Foley. Talk turned to a Michael Daley leadership and Chris Minns also wanted a crack.
Then there were the phone calls Foley is said by Raper to have made to her, saying he would resign, then he would not.
Almost Richard Nixon/David Frost stuff.
“Last Sunday ( November 4), Luke Foley called me on my mobile phone and we had a conversation that lasted 19 minutes,” Raper says in her statement.
“He said he was sorry and that he was full of remorse for his behaviour towards me at the Press Gallery Christmas function in November 2016.
“He told me that he had wanted to talk to me about that night on many occasions over the past two years because, while he was drunk and couldn’t remember all the details of the night, he knew he did something to offend me.
“He apologised again and told me ‘I’m not a philanderer, I’m not a groper, I’m just a drunk idiot’.
“He said he would be resigning as the leader of the NSW Labor Party on either the next day (Monday, November 5) or Wednesday (November 7).
“He said he couldn’t resign on the Tuesday because it was Mel- bourne Cup Day and he didn’t want to be accused of burying the story.
“On Tuesday, Mr Foley called me again. He informed me he’d received legal advice not to resign as Opposition Leader.”
When a clearly shaken Foley faced the media last night to resign, he stuck to his denial.
Now he wants to take it to the Federal Court, just like Geoffrey Rush.
You could pin it all to #MeToo, but a NSW Liberal opposition leader in John Brogden resigned over the same sort of allegation 13 years ago.
That sort of alleged behaviour has never been viewed as acceptable for someone aspiring to be the state’s premier.
ABC reporter Ashleigh Raper who has levelled assault allegations against now-resigned NSW Labor leader Luke Foley
Luke Foley with his wife Edel after his 2015 election concession speech
ABC journalist Ashleigh Raper interviewing Mr Foley, left, whom she accuses of inappropriate touching