How The Aus­tralian broke the story on May 26

First comes the al­leged of­fence, and then the gen­eral scru­tiny

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - CARO­LINE OVERINGTON AS­SO­CIATE EDI­TOR

“I’m not a phi­lan­derer, I’m not a groper, I’m just a drunk id­iot.” Well, yes. If what ABC re­porter Ash­leigh Raper has said about NSW La­bor leader Luke Fo­ley is true — if he shoved his hands in­side her un­der­pants with­out her con­sent, an ac­tion he ve­he­mently de­nies — that’s not grop­ing and that’s not phi­lan­der­ing. That’s as­sault, ei­ther sex­ual or in­de­cent.

So, yes, he’d be right: Fo­ley wouldn’t be a phi­lan­derer, or a groper, or a drunk id­iot, he’d be guilty of a se­ri­ous crime.

And so he’s su­ing Raper and prob­a­bly a host of me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions for defama­tion.

Fo­ley had to re­sign from the lead­er­ship of the NSW La­bor Party yes­ter­day, mean­ing he’s no longer on track to be pre­mier of our largest, most pros­per­ous state. No doubt he feels hard done by. But what of Raper? For two years she has re­sisted mak­ing any kind of pub­lic state­ment about what she says Fo­ley did to her in a bar af­ter a 2016 Christ­mas party.

But with ev­ery­one talk­ing about her, smear­ing her, im­ply­ing she was a liar, she de­cided it was time for her voice to be heard.

Raper was ex­tremely clear about what hap­pened. Her state­ment, in part, reads thus: “To set the record straight. In Novem­ber 2016 I at­tended an of­fi­cial Christ­mas func­tion at New South Wales Par­lia­ment House for state po­lit­i­cal re­porters, politi­cians and their staff.

“This is what hap­pened on that night. The party moved from Par­lia­ment House to Martin Place Bar af­ter a num­ber of hours.

“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 de­nies this ver­sion of events and he says he has en­gaged a defama­tion lawyer, pre­sum­ably to sue the ABC for re­leas­ing Raper’s state­ment, and Raper her­self for mak­ing the al­le­ga­tion pub­lic, and ev­ery­one else for re­port­ing on it.

And so we find our­selves in con­fus­ing ter­ri­tory. Her state­ment is ut­terly com­pelling. His de­nial is equally ve­he­ment.

How can these two sce­nar­ios co-ex­ist?

Well, if she is telling the truth then Fo­ley must live on a planet, let’s call it Earth, where there are rarely con­se­quences for such be­hav­iour. Be­cause if she’s telling the truth, con­sider how brazen he’s been.

These al­le­ga­tions have been buzzing around the pol­i­tics-me­dia bub­ble for months, if not years.

A jour­nal­ist from The Aus­tralian asked Fo­ley about the story in April. He threat­ened to sue.

The Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald made in­quiries and The Daily Tele­graph did, too. It was the talk of the ta­bles at the An­drew Olle Me­dia Lec­ture on Novem­ber 1 in Syd­ney.

Noth­ing much hap­pened un­til the al­le­ga­tion was made in par­lia­ment, by Cor­rec­tions Min­is­ter David El­liott, who should by rights ten­der his res­ig­na­tion to­day, but more about that in a mo­ment.

Fo­ley dared El­liott to make his al­le­ga­tion out­side par­lia­ment so he could sue. He fronted a press con­fer­ence where he called the al­le­ga­tions “smears”. That’s fairly au­da­cious. As­sum­ing Raper’s not ly­ing, that her rec­ol­lec­tion of events is cor­rect, how could Fo­ley be so sure that he had her pinned down, si­lenced?

Es­pe­cially when Raper says she has a wit­ness, who would of course be asked what ex­actly he saw, and where he was sit­ting and how much he’d had to drink, should this ever reach a court­room?

Much has been writ­ten, in this the era of #MeToo, about the dif­fi­culty women face when they seek to make com­plaints about sex­ual harass­ment.

Raper made clear yes­ter­day that she didn’t want to come for­ward with her al­le­ga­tions.

“This is a po­si­tion I never wanted to be in and a state­ment I never in­tended to make,” her state­ment says.

“I chose not to make a com­plaint for a num­ber of rea­sons. It is clear to me that a woman who is the sub­ject of such be­hav­iour is of­ten the per­son who suf­fers once a com­plaint is made.

“I cher­ished my po­si­tion as a state po­lit­i­cal re­porter and feared that would be lost. I also feared the neg­a­tive im­pact the pub­lic­ity could have on me per­son­ally and on my young fam­ily. This im­pact is now be­ing felt pro­foundly.”

Her state­ment makes clear she didn’t want the ABC to take any ac­tion on her be­half, ei­ther. “They re­spected my re­quest for pri­vacy and have of­fered me noth­ing but their ab­so­lute care and sup­port,” she says.

Now we are in del­i­cate ter­ri­tory. Did the ABC have an obli­ga­tion to act?

The ABC in its state­ment says it was “ex­tremely un­for­tu­nate” that me­dia and pub­lic pres­sure had caused Raper to speak pub­licly on the is­sue.

“The ABC’s first pri­or­ity is and al­ways has been the wel­fare of our em­ployee,” it says.

“Ms Raper … made it clear she did not wish to make a for­mal com­plaint or take any ac­tion and wished the mat­ter to re­main con­fi­den­tial.

“The ABC re­spected her wishes but took all steps to en­sure Ms Raper re­ceived com­plete man­age­ment sup­port.” Me, I’d have called the po­lice. If what Raper says is true then Fo­ley as­saulted her. He shoved his hand in­side her un­der­pants, placed them on an in­ti­mate part of her body, did so against her will. The po­lice would have pro­tected Raper’s iden­tity. The me­dia can’t iden­tify a vic­tim of sex­ual as­sault.

Many will un­der­stand Raper’s re­luc­tance to call the cops. The court process is har­row­ing for women.

As fem­i­nist Ger­maine Greer said in a re­cent es­say, On Rape, the po­lice would have taken Raper’s phone and ac­cessed her mes­sages and her pho­to­graphs. She’d have been in­ter­ro­gated for days and he not at all.

You have to walk in the shoes of the women who do make com­plaints. Now con­sider why they don’t.

The stakes in this case were par­tic­u­larly high: Fo­ley was on track to be pre­mier un­til yes­ter­day.

An al­le­ga­tion of this type would prob­a­bly bring him down.

But when it comes to sex­ual harass­ment, the stakes are usu­ally pretty high, the rea­son be­ing men don’t tend to ha­rass and at­tack women who are more pow­er­ful than they are.

Of­ten he will have a fam­ily, and women worry about col­lat­eral dam­age — the wives, the kids. They feel re­spon­si­ble for dam­age, even when it’s not of their do­ing. Now to El­liott. When will he be ten­der­ing his res­ig­na­tion?

Be­cause he used a woman to score a po­lit­i­cal point. Oh sure, he has thrown the #MeToo cloak over it — surely it’s bet­ter for the world to know that the op­po­si­tion leader has been ac­cused of sex­ual harass­ment than to have the al­le­ga­tion fes­ter­ing? — but we’re not stupid.

El­liott used ru­mours to whack Fo­ley on Oc­to­ber 18 and he didn’t care who got hurt.

He left Raper feel­ing ex­posed, and ha­rassed — and he’s the one who says she’s the vic­tim.

She is now the sub­ject of in­tense me­dia scru­tiny and she faces a costly, har­row­ing law­suit. He should go.

Many have drawn a par­al­lel be­tween this case and an­other reach­ing its crescendo in the Fed- eral Court, where Os­car win­ner Ge­of­frey Rush is su­ing The Daily

Tele­graph over an al­le­ga­tion that he sex­u­ally ha­rassed an ac­tress dur­ing a per­for­mance of King Lear.

The ac­tress, Eryn-Jean Norvill, did not want her com­plaint made pub­lic. She wanted the be­hav­iour — which he de­nies — to stop.

She didn’t go to the Tele­graph with her story. She didn’t in fact speak to re­porters. They dis­cov­ered her com­plaint by other means and de­cided the story was im­por­tant enough to tell.

He de­nied it and they are now in court.

Ru­ral busi­ness­woman Cather­ine Mar­riott made a com­plaint against then deputy prime min­is­ter Barn­aby Joyce, which he de­nied. She was, she says, “hor­ri­fied” when her name be­came pub­lic.

Some say the rules of work­place en­gage­ment are be­ing rewrit­ten, that you have to be mad as a leery bloke to touch a woman up at this year’s Christ­mas party.

We should per­haps con­sider the pos­si­bil­ity that things are in fact get­ting worse.

Are you sure you want to com­plain? Be­cause if you do, he’s go­ing to call you a liar, and it seems he’s now very likely to sue you, so you bet­ter be able to prove it.

Not ev­ery­one can prove it. Not ev­ery­one wants the has­sle. Most women just want to get on with their jobs.

One more side of this story de­serves a bit of scru­tiny: it has been well-known within the NSW La­bor Party for months, in­deed years, that their leader had been ac­cused of as­sault­ing a woman in a bar.

How many of them asked him about it? How many made the cal­cu­la­tion that this was prob­a­bly true but made him no more than a bit of dirty groper? Be­cause that’s no longer OK. In her state­ment, Raper says Fo­ley called her this week and told her he 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 said he would be re­sign­ing as the leader.”

On Mel­bourne Cup Day, he called again and said he’d changed his mind.

That, she says, was one of the rea­sons she de­cided to come for­ward.

She fin­ished her state­ment this way: “There are three things I want to come from my de­ci­sion to make this state­ment.

“First, women should be able to go about their pro­fes­sional lives and so­cialise with­out be­ing sub­ject to this sort of be­hav­iour. “And I want it to stop. “Sec­ond, sit­u­a­tions like mine should not be dis­cussed in par­lia­ment for the sake of po­lit­i­cal point scor­ing. “And I want it to stop. “Third, I want to get on with my life. I do not wish to make any fur­ther com­ment.”

Less than five hours later, Fo­ley made a 46-sec­ond re­sponse.

“The al­le­ga­tions are false,” he said, and now come the lawyers.

‘This is a po­si­tion I never wanted to be in and a state­ment I never in­tended to make’

ASH­LEIGH RAPER ABC JOUR­NAL­IST

LUKE FO­LEY ASH­LEIGH RAPER DAVID EL­LIOTT

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