ABC jour­nal­ist Ash­leigh Raper de­tails al­le­ga­tions against Luke Fo­ley

The Guardian Australia - - News - Michael Mc­Gowan and Christo­pher Knaus

An ABC re­porter has al­leged that the New South Wales op­po­si­tion leader, Luke Fo­ley, put his hands in­side her un­der­pants at a Christ­mas func­tion in 2016.

Fo­ley de­nied the al­le­ga­tions in a brief me­dia con­fer­ence at around 5.30pm on Thurs­day and said he ex­pected to take le­gal ac­tion in re­sponse.

The al­le­ga­tions had quickly prompted an in­ter­nal push to re­move Fo­ley. One back­bencher had called on him to re­sign and said she would call for a spill if he did not. Se­nior La­bor sources also said his po­si­tion was “un­sus­tain­able” just five months out from the elec­tion.

Ash­leigh Raper, who pre­vi­ously worked as a re­porter in­side the state par­lia­ment, re­leased a state­ment on Thurs­day ad­dress­ing re­ports that Fo­ley had acted in­ap­pro­pri­ately at a func­tion in Novem­ber that year.

Fo­ley had pre­vi­ously de­nied al­le­ga­tions that he harassed a jour­nal­ist at the Christ­mas party, after they were aired last month by a Lib­eral MP un­der par­lia­men­tary priv­i­lege. He re­it­er­ated that de­nial on Thurs­day.

The ABC state­ment said the re­porter had not wanted to make a com­plaint and had only now come for­ward be­cause of “me­dia and pub­lic pres­sure”. The ABC said it would not be com­ment­ing fur­ther.

Late in the evening after the func­tion, she said, the op­po­si­tion leader had ap­proached her and a group of peo­ple to say good­night.

“He stood next to me,” she said. “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.”

Raper said the en­counter had been wit­nessed by the jour­nal­ist 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,” she said. “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.”

Raper said in the state­ment that she had been con­tacted by Fo­ley last Sun­day. In a 19-minute phone con­ver­sa­tion he had said: “I’m not a phi­lan­derer, I’m not a groper, I’m just a drunk id­iot.”

She said Fo­ley had apol­o­gised and said he was “full of re­morse for his be­hav­iour”.

“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,” she said.

Raper said Fo­ley had told her he would re­sign as the leader of the NSW La­bor party on ei­ther the next day or Wed­nes­day 7 Novem­ber.

“He said he couldn’t re­sign on the Tues­day be­cause it was Mel­bourne Cup day and he didn’t want to be ac­cused of bury­ing the story,” she said.

On Tues­day, how­ever, she said he had con­tacted her again and changed his po­si­tion, say­ing he had re­ceived “le­gal ad­vice” not to re­sign.

“He re­peated his apol­ogy and told me he owed me ‘a lot of con­tri­tion’,” she said.

“He in­formed me he’d re­ceived le­gal ad­vice not to re­sign as op­po­si­tion leader. He in­di­cated he in­tended to fol­low that ad­vice.”

The re­lease of the state­ment prompted calls from within the La­bor party for Fo­ley to re­sign. Tr­ish Doyle, the Blue Moun­tains MP, re­leased a state­ment on Thurs­day af­ter­noon threat­en­ing to call a spill of the party lead­er­ship if Fo­ley did not re­sign.

“Pol­i­tics, like the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try, is lag­ging far be­hind the rest of so­ci­ety in its han­dling of work­place sex­ual ha­rass­ment and bul­ly­ing,” she said.

“We need a sig­nif­i­cant cul­tural shift in so­ci­ety so that women can feel safe and so that when they make a com­plaint it is taken se­ri­ously.

“I am con­cerned that this is­sue has drawn out and caused such dis­tress and an­guish for the jour­nal­ist at the cen­tre of it.

“In my view, Mr Fo­ley’s po­si­tion is un­ten­able and he must re­sign to­day … In the event that he re­fuses to re­sign, I will call for a spill of the NSW La­bor lead­er­ship to re­solve this is­sue.”

In her state­ment Raper said she had cho­sen not to com­plain 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,” she said.

“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.”

She said she had been con­tacted by an­other re­porter about the mat­ter ear­lier in the year and sub­se­quently in­formed ABC news man­age­ment about the en­counter.

“I told them I didn’t wish to make a com­plaint or for any fur­ther ac­tion to be taken,” she said. “They re­spected my re­quest for pri­vacy and have of­fered me noth­ing but their ab­so­lute care and sup­port.”

The en­counter came to broad pub­lic at­ten­tion when the Lib­eral MLC David El­liott raised the mat­ter it in NSW par­lia­ment last month, some­thing Raper said hap­pened “oc­curred with­out my in­volve­ment or con­sent”.

El­liott did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

At the time, Fo­ley la­belled the accu-

sa­tions “a smear”.

Raper said: “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.” Guardian Aus­tralia un­der­stands that Michael Da­ley, the cur­rent deputy, is a lead­ing con­tender to re­place him.

“We’ll be sup­port­ing Michael Da­ley for a num­ber of rea­sons, he’s the deputy, we want a smooth tran­si­tion in what has taken all of us off guard,” a se­nior La­bor source said.

“We’re go­ing into an elec­tion, we want sta­bil­ity. He can pro­vide that.”

Asked be­fore the res­ig­na­tion whether there was any chance Fo­ley could re­main as leader, the La­bor source re­sponded: “No. It’s a pretty damn­ing state­ment … You don’t get much clearer. It’s pretty un­equiv­o­cal. Where do you go from there?”

One shadow min­is­ter said Fo­ley’s po­si­tion was clearly “un­sus­tain­able” and that “he will have lost all sup­port.”

She said Da­ley would be the “top choice” to re­place Fo­ley if he re­signed. “He’s solid as a rock,” she said.

The next NSW state elec­tion is due to be held in March 2019.

The two ma­jor par­ties were neck and neck last month, ac­cord­ing to a ReachTel poll for the Sun-Herald. Their pri­mary vote was locked at 50:50, and Fo­ley had beaten Gla­dys Bere­jik­lian as pre­ferred NSW pre­mier, polling at 50.2%.

A third La­bor source said chang­ing lead­ers might not be enor­mously dam­ag­ing be­cause Fo­ley was rel­a­tively un­known.

“Mov­ing from a leader in that con­text isn’t quite as cat­a­strophic,” he said.

He told Guardian Aus­tralia just after 3.30pm that he was ex­pect­ing Fo­ley to make an an­nounce­ment this af­ter­noon but said the leader’s where­abouts was un­known. Even Fo­ley’s own staff ap­peared to be un­aware of his lo­ca­tion, he said.

“No one thinks he should hang around,” he said. “We are all hop­ing there’ll be a state­ment this af­ter­noon.

“He’s not in his of­fice. They’re look­ing for him.”

The fed­eral La­bor leader, Bill Shorten, was asked about the al­le­ga­tions dur­ing a press con­fer­ence on Thurs­day. He said he had not read Raper’s state­ment and that ques­tions were best di­rected to Fo­ley.

Prime min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son said the state­ment was “very shock­ing”.

“I’m not here to act as a judge and jury on these sorts of things but I must say I found those al­le­ga­tions very

shock­ing and dis­turb­ing.”

Sit­u­a­tions like mine should not be dis­cussed in par­lia­ment for the sake of po­lit­i­cal point scor­ing

Asheigh Raper

NSW op­po­si­tion leader Luke Fo­ley is ac­cused of in­ap­pro­pri­ately touch­ing ABC re­porter Ash­leigh Raper. Pho­to­graph: Dan Him­brechts/AAP

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