Janet Fife-Yeomans

The sorry po­lit­i­cal his­tory of im­pro­pri­ety

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - Saturday Extra -

What is it about par­lia­men­tari ans — in­vari­ably male ones?

The al­le­ga­tion that led to Luke Fo­ley fall­ing on his sword on Thurs­day was hardly any­thing new in par­lia­ment.

Fo­ley has de­nied the al­le­ga­tion and says he in­tends to sue the ABC, but you don’t need a long mem­ory to re­call ex­am­ples of stupidly drunken be­hav­iour in­volv­ing MPs who are paid well to hold the elec­torate’s fu­ture in their hands. How could we for­get Matt Brown? He was the NSW po­lice min­is­ter when he quit in shame in Septem­ber 2008 af­ter danc­ing semi-naked on a green leather couch dur­ing a party in his of­fice in Par­lia­ment House and sim­u­lat­ing a sex act on then La­bor MP Noreen Brown. At the party, which hap­pened dur­ing bud­get sit­tings, he was re­ported to have climbed on top of the Wol­lon­gong MP’s chest be­fore turn­ing to her adult daugh­ter and call­ing out, “look at this, I’m titty f ...... your mother.” Mr Brown stren­u­ously de­nied us­ing the words de­scribed. “I’m a hu­man be­ing and I made a mis­take and I’m go­ing to cop the con­se­quences of that mis­take,’’ Brown, a for­mer solic­i­tor, said at the time.

He said he re­mem­bered tak­ing off his shirt and danc­ing but did not re­mem­ber tak­ing off his pants.

“I don’t re­call parad­ing around in my un­der­wear,” he said.

“I know I took my shirt off and I know I did have a dance. I was work­ing off steam in the pri­vacy of my own of­fice with work­mates.”

Em­ploy­ment lawyers say there is no “pri­vacy” in a work­place when it comes to sex­ual ha­rass­ment and par­lia­ment is a work­place like any other.

With­out com­ment­ing on any par­tic­u­lar case, Ka­mal Faroque says if it hap­pens in par­lia­ment, the vic­tim could com­plain to the Speaker of the House.

“It’s of­ten the case that an em­ployer is re­spon­si­ble for that be­hav­iour if they have not taken rea­son­ably steps to pre­vent the con­duct oc­cur­ring,” Faroque, prin­ci­pal lawyer in em­ploy­ment and in­dus­trial law with Mau­rice Black­burn, says.

“How that ap­plies to par­lia­men­tar­i­ans is a more com­plex ques­tion.

“Cer­tainly the par­lia­men­tar­i­ans them­selves would be re­spon­si­ble for their con­duct. There may be an ar­gu­ment that a gov­ern­ment depart­ment of the state is re­spon­si­ble.”

Yet sex­ual ha­rass­ment still hap­pens among those who make those very work­place laws, our par­lia­men­tar­i­ans.

“Par­lia­ment has a unique role and abil­ity to in­flu­ence cul­ture through pol­icy and reg­u­la­tion,” says the Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Em­ploy­ment Rights ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Re­nee Burns.

“As an em­ployer, in­deed Aus­tralia’s largest em­ployer, the gov­ern­ment has a duty to lead by ex­am­ple.”

The AIER Char­ter of Em­ploy­ment Rights says that not only do all work­ers have the right to a work­place free from ha­rass­ment, dis­crim­i­na­tion and bul­ly­ing but they also have the right to dig­nity. It is a qual­ity sadly lack­ing in par­lia­ment.

A lot of peo­ple have been wait­ing for the #MeToo move­ment to reach the hal­lowed halls of Can­berra.

A fe­male friend who has re­ported on Can­berra pol­i­tics says it is com­mon to be groped. Any man who does that knows it is wrong. It is sex­ual as­sault.

An­other friend who has worked in the press gallery talks of push­ing away slob­ber­ing drunken ad­vances from male politi­cians who think they are at­trac­tive.

Dur­ing the ABC’s Q&A on Thurs­day night, de­posed prime min­is­ter Mal­colm Turnbull hit out at the cul­ture for women in par­lia­ment, de­scrib­ing it as “very blokey” and like an en­vi­ron­ment of the 1980s.

Not that that would be any ex­cuse. What is dis­gust­ing th­ese days was just as bad 40 years ago.

Turnbull said his “so­called bonk­ing ban” is some­thing he should not have had to in­tro­duce and “should be pretty ob­vi­ous”.

The ban, which pro­hibits min­is­ters hav­ing sex with their staff, fol­lowed the scan­dal of for­mer Na­tion­als leader Barn­aby Joyce hav­ing an af­fair with his staffer Vikki Campion, dur­ing which she got preg­nant and he left his wife.

“I be­lieve the cul­ture in par­lia­ment is not suf­fi­ciently re­spect­ful of women,” Turnbull said on Thurs­day.

“Scott Mor­ri­son ab­so­lutely shares my val­ues on this.”

Can­berra is a dif­fer­ent ket­tle of politi­cians than NSW par­lia­ment.

It is a hot­house at­mos­phere where al­most ev­ery­one — MPs, staffers, journos — is liv­ing away from their part­ners and their fam­i­lies, din­ing out most nights in­stead of hav­ing a take­away in their sad ho­tel rooms, mak­ing con­tacts and drink­ing too much. What hap­pens be­tween con­sent­ing adults is dif­fer­ent to sex­ual ha­rass­ment or sex­ual as­sault.

Faroque says that any­one who says “it’s only a grope” has to change their at­ti­tude. “Grop­ing be­hav­iour can be an in­de­cent as­sault un­der the crim­i­nal law and be il­le­gal un­der anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion law,” he says.

“Where there is a phys­i­cal con­tact or per­haps even threat­en­ing state­ments of a sex­ual na­ture, that can con­sti­tute a sex­ual as­sault and a crim­i­nal of­fence.”

In state Par­lia­ment, most politi­cians can re­turn home for the night but there is still a cul­ture of drink­ing at work and in­sti­tu­tion­alised sex­ism.

As an em­ployer, the gov­ern­ment has a duty to lead by ex­am­ple Re­nee Burns

Her abil­ity to con­trol the is­sue, as she wanted to, was taken away from her. I re­spect ev­ery sin­gle word she ut­tered in her state­ment Premier Gla­dys Bere­jik­lian

Fo­ley has ve­he­mently de­nied ABC jour­nal­ist Ash­leigh Raper’s claim that he put his hand in­side her un­der­pants and “rested it on my but­tocks” at par­lia­men­tary Christ­mas drinks in 2016.

While the al­le­ga­tions had been do­ing the rounds for some months at least, it was a man, Pris­ons Min­is­ter David El­liott, who used the re­porter’s very pri­vate ex­pe­ri­ence as a po­lit­i­cal weapon un­der par­lia­men­tary priv­i­lege, which means he can­not be sued for defama­tion.

El­liott’s fe­male boss, Premier Gla­dys Bere­jik­lian, made no bones about her feel­ings.

She said yes­ter­day that she was dis­ap­pointed that El­liott took con­trol of the story out of the hands of the jour­nal­ist.

“I’ve ex­pressed my ab­so­lute dis­ap­point­ment that her abil­ity to con­trol the is­sue, as she wanted to, was taken away from her,” Bere­jik­lian says.

“I re­spect ev­ery sin­gle word she ut­tered in her state­ment.”

El­liott is­sued a brief state­ment yes­ter­day say­ing he didn’t mean to dis­tress the jour­nal­ist but stopped short of apol­o­gis­ing.

“This has clearly been a dif­fi­cult time for the jour­nal­ist. To that end, it was never my in­tent to cause dis­tress for the jour­nal­ist,” El­liott says. Raper says she never wanted to go pub­lic with the story.

Par­lia­ment can be a ruth­less place.

In 2013, John Brog­den quit the Lib­eral lead­er­ship apol­o­gis­ing for de­scrib­ing for­mer premier Bob Carr’s wife He­lena as a “mail-or­der bride” and was ac­cused of un­wel­come ad­vances on two fe­male jour­nal­ists at a func­tion, in­clud­ing pinch­ing one on the bot­tom.

Two days later he at­tempted sui­cide.

Two years ago, NSW La­bor gen­eral sec­re­tary Jamie Cle­ments re­signed af­ter dam­ag­ing al­le­ga­tions from a for­mer fe­male staffer that he tried to kiss her in the par­lia­men­tary of­fice of Camp­bell­town MP Greg War­ren.

Stephanie Jones sought an AVO and Cle­ments agreed not to ap­proach her for 12 months.

Ear­lier this year, se­nior Mal­colm Turnbull ad­viser Caitlin Keage lost her job af­ter pub­licly post­ing texts sent be­tween her then boyfriend NSW Fair Trad­ing min­is­ter Matt Kean and Lib­eral NSW back­bencher Eleni Petinos.

Shortly af­ter the af­fair was ex­posed, Mr Kean said: “I am deeply sorry my re­la­tion­ship with Caitlin has ended in such a spec­tac­u­lar and sad fash­ion. I wish her all the best.”

In No­vem­ber 2013, the for­mer Premier and then Op­po­si­tion spokesman for po­lice and emer­gency ser­vices Nathan Rees stepped down af­ter his ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair with a con­stituent was ex­posed.

Four years ear­lier, thenHealth Min­is­ter John Della Bosca, who had been cam­paign­ing hard be­hind the scenes to oust Rees when he was premier, re­signed af­ter it was re­vealed he had been hav­ing an af­fair with 26-yearold Kate Neill, who said they had sex on the couch in his par­lia­men­tary of­fice.

Mean­while the an­nual NSW par­lia­men­tary Christ­mas drinks are sched­uled for two week’s time. The bar is said to be stock­ing up on min­eral wa­ter and herbal tea.

For­mer Na­tion­als leader Barn­aby Joyce with ex-staffer and now part­ner Vikki Campion.

NSW La­bor gen­eral sec­re­tary Jamie Cle­ments and (left) Stephanie Jones.

Clock­wise (from above left) Luke Fo­ley re­signs, Ash­leigh Raper, John Brog­den, Matt Brown and Kate Neill.

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