Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Accused under privilege
NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong denounces a colleague

NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong today denounced her upper house colleague Jeremy Buckingham, accusing him under privilege of an “act of sexual violence” against a former employee in 2011, and calling on him to resign ahead of next year’s state election. It is a dramatic escalation of the factional war inside the state branch of the party after allegations of sexual harassment by a former employee, Ella Buckland, were first aired on the ABC’s 7.30 program in August. Those allegations, since republished elsewhere, have been strenuously denied by Buckingham, who was cleared by an independent investigation in September, which recommended there be “no adverse finding against [him] with respect to sexual harassment or inappropriate behaviour towards Ms Buckland”. Nonetheless, today’s intervention by Leong – backed up by a joint statement with NSW Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi – will increase pressure on Buckingham to stand aside. Buckingham rejected the call today, issuing a statement in which he refused to stand down: “I’ve been democratically elected to the parliament and to the NSW Greens Legislative Council ticket by a ballot of all members.”

It is the third high-profile sexual harassment controversy in a week, after the ABC’s Four Corners program last night aired allegations by former ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie that former chairman Justin Milne touched her inappropriately by rubbing her back at a Sydney restaurant. Milne denied the allegation expressly on last night’s program. Last week, ABC journalist Ashleigh Raper issued a public statement containing a detailed, corroborated groping allegation against then NSW Opposition leader Luke Foley, including an apparent admission and apology by him in a private conversation. He also denied the allegations in Raper’s statement, and threatened to sue, but resigned from the leadership and will not seek re-election.

After the investigation cleared Buckingham of the allegations made on 7.30, he put out a statement saying that the allegations were false, that he had lodged a complaint against 7.30, and was pursuing a number of civil actions, including against Channel Ten, which repeated the allegations and subsequently issued an apology. The allegations made on 7.30 were raised in the wake of a bitter preselection battle between Buckingham and his upper house rival David Shoebridge, who were contesting the top spot on the party’s upper house ticket at the March election. Shoebridge beat Buckingham, who was relegated to third spot (behind Abigail Boyd), which is considered unwinnable.

In their joint statement today, Leong and Faruqi called on Buckingham to step aside and not contest the next election, saying that there should be zero tolerance of sexual harassment within the party, and survivors were feeling let down and unsupported. Leong went further in her speech under privilege, accusing Buckingham of an “act of sexual violence” towards Buckland and “subsequent disgusting behaviour” and, apologising to Buckland, said “let me say on the record, I believe you.” Leong also mentioned further unspecified confidential allegations against Buckingham, and said that he had behaved in an aggressive and intimidating manner towards her personally on two occasions – once in a public place and once in parliament. “I have spent many days in this bear pit and I know that politics can be an intense place, but, as too many women know, you can feel the difference … when a man is in control and when he is not.” In his response today, Buckingham said, “I reject Jenny Leong’s characterisation of a couple of conversations we’ve had”. 

Buckland herself told [$] The Australian today, “I feel deep gratitude to Ms Leong for her words, particularly that she believes me,” she said. “However this is a greater issue, one that affects many women, I feel Ms Leong’s courage, albeit belated, sends a message that women are not going to allow these behaviours to continue.”

since this morning

The Australian reports [$] that Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Islamic leaders must stop “the wolves coming among the sheep” after the spiritual leader of a centre frequented by Hassan Khalif Shire Ali blasted the “bloody prime minister” for his comments after Friday’s attack.

Bill Shorten has compared [$] alleged political interference in the ABC to living in a “dictatorship” after the row between former chairman Justin Milne and former managing director Michelle Guthrie was aired on Four Corners last night. In The Guardian, Margaret Simons wrote that the “he-said she-said scrapping … shows neither of them was suitable to care for our most important cultural institution”.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus has accused the ABC of refusing to let her on the premises of the public broadcaster for a talk to union members on Wednesday.

The ABC reports that the Federal Court has refused to approve a $35 million penalty for Westpac, despite the bank admitting it broke responsible lending laws.

in case you missed it

Fairfax Media reports that the country’s biggest universities say they are “under assault” and have launched an attack on the Morrison government over a fresh round of cuts to academic research.

Also in Fairfax, the latest annual snapshot from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency shows that the gender pay gap fell by 1.1 per cent last year, to 21.3 per cent, the biggest single-year drop to date, although men still take home on average $25,717 per year more than women.

In The Australian former premier Jeff Kennett writes [$] on the Victorian election: “from one who knows, there’s an upset ahead”.

by Paul Davies
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Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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