Australian politics engulfed by sexual harassment scandal


A sexual harassment scandal has engulfed Australian politics after a state parliament opposition leader was accused of indecently assaulting a female journalist at a Christmas party.

In an explosive statement published this week by the national broadcaster the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), one of its reporters claimed Luke Foley, the leader of the New South Wales Labor party, had put his hand down the back of her dress and inside her underwear at a function in 2016.

The scandal first came to light when the governing Liberal party used parliamentary privilege to raise unspecified allegations of misconduct by Foley three weeks ago, setting off a political firestorm and a string of speculative reporting.

Foley described the allegations as a “smear” and threatened to make claims about opposition ministers if they were repeated outside parliament.

According to the reporter, Ashleigh Raper, Foley rang her on Sunday and promised to resign over the matter, saying: “I am not a philanderer, I’m not a groper, I’m just a drunk idiot.”

However, Foley did not resign and by Thursday Raper had decided to release her statement via her employer, ABC.

She said that late in the evening after the function in November 2016, Foley 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.”

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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.”

Raper criticised the use of her situation for “political point scoring”, saying the decision by the Liberal party to bring the matter into the public glare “occurred without my involvement or consent”.

Hours after the statement appeared online, Foley appeared at a press conference that lasted less than two minutes and denied any wrongdoing.

In a move that stunned the public and his party, he went on to announce that he would fight the allegations and sue for defamation. He resigned as leader of the party, but maintained he would move to the backbench and retain his seat.

The Labor MP Trish Doyle was among those that decried his decision. “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.”

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The federal Labor leader, Bill Shorten, said Foley’s alleged behaviour “cannot be tolerated”.

By Friday evening, amid growing public uproar and increasing pressure from within his party to quit, no legal action had been taken by Foley. Labor announced he would not recontest his seat at the state election next year.

The party did not say whether Foley intended to remain in parliament until the next election, although it is understood that if he does so, he will probably be dumped from the party.



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