Boozy night ends in whis­pers of sleaze

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - AN­DREW CLENNELL NSW PO­LIT­I­CAL EDI­TOR

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

CRAIG GREENHILL

Luke Fo­ley with his wife Edel af­ter his 2015 elec­tion con­ces­sion speech

7 NEWS

ABC jour­nal­ist Ash­leigh Raper in­ter­view­ing Mr Fo­ley, left, whom she ac­cuses of in­ap­pro­pri­ate touch­ing

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