UPDATE at 5:00 PM | LUKE Foley has stepped down as leader of the NSW Labor Party in the wake of explosive allegations of sexual harassment, leveled against him by ABC reporter Ashleigh Raper.
In a brief statement a short time ago, Mr Foley vehemently denied the allegations and vowed to commence defamation proceedings immediately.
“The first thing I’d like to say is that the allegations against today, made public by the ABC, are false,” he said.
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“I’ve retained solicitors and senior counsel to advise on the immediate commencement of defamation proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia.
“However, I can’t fight to clear my name and fight an election at the same time. It’s just not possible to do both.”
“Therefore, I’m resigning the leadership of the Labor Party effective today. This will enable a new leader to give his or her full attention to the task of defeating the Liberal National Government.
“I’ll be remaining as the Member for Auburn, and returning to the back bench. Thank you.”
EARLIER at 2:00 PM | A JOURNALIST who claims she was groped by NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley at a political Christmas party two years ago has released an explosive statement, detailing the alleged incident.
In the statement, ABC reporter Ashleigh Raper alleges Mr Foley placed his hand down the back of her dress and inside her underpants at a Christmas Party at NSW Parliament House in November 2016.
Ms Raper said she was forced to go public and “set the record straight” after the allegations were raised in Parliament under parliamentary privilege in both Sydney and Canberra earlier this month.
“This is a position I never wanted to be in and a statement I never intended to make,” Ms Raper said.
“But I think the time has come for my voice to be heard.
“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.”
Then-Sydney Morning Herald reporter and current ABC colleague Sean Nicholls is believed to have witnessed the alleged incident but never said anything at Ms Raper’s request.
Ms Raper said didn’t want to make a complaint out of fear of negative publicity and losing her job.
“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,” Ms Raper said.
“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.”
In her statement, Ms Raper said Mr Foley phoned her last Sunday to apologise and express his remorse.
Ms Raper said during the 19-minute conversation, the politician told her: “I’m not a philanderer, I’m not a groper, I’m just a drunk idiot.”
“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,” Ms Raper said.
She said Mr Foley had told her that he planned on resigning this week but called her again on Tuesday to say that he’d been given legal advice not to quit and said that he intended to follow it.
“He said he would be resigning as the leader of the New South Wales Labor Party on either the next day (Monday, 5 November) or Wednesday (7 November),” Ms Raper said.
“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.”
Ms Raper said such incidents should not be raised in parliament for the sake of “political point scoring”.
“David Elliot raised the matter in the New South Wales Parliament last month, putting the incident in the public domain,” she said.
“The matter then became a state and federal political issue and resulted in intense media attention.
“This occurred without my involvement or consent.”
Ms Raper said there were three things that she wanted to come from her decision to make a 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,” she said.
“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.”