How The Australian broke the story on May 26
First comes the alleged offence, and then the general scrutiny
“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