In one of the most remarkable speeches ever delivered in an Australian parliament, former Kennett government Finance Minister Ian Smith delivered this speech when responding to claims he’d sacked his chief of staff Cheryl Harris after getting her pregnant. If Joe Tripodi, the NSW Labor member accused of sexual assault, thinks he’s got a problem he should read this speech, which Crikey helped write back in 1995.

Miranda Devine was dead right when she wrote in the Daily Telegraph this week that the ABC and the media generally would have gone feral if a Liberal was under attack for sexual assault.

Anyway, the SMH named Joe on its front page in Tuesday’s paper and then the rest of the media followed up when he outed himself pathetically in Parliament that day.

The ambitious right wing branch stacker only managed 261 words which The Daily Telegraph declared was “Joe’s Maiden Speech” on its front page on Wednesday.

The Telegraph’s use of a psychologist to analyse Joe was positively cruel but the Tele’s David Pemberthy wrote a terrific column on Wednesday attacking Labor speaker John Murray for his appalling behaviour during the Tripodi affair. If only the NSW media kept the Carr government under this much pressure all the time.

For instance, has anyone checked out the TCorp annual report which reveals Michael Egan’s paper shufflers are about to load even more debt onto the stricken government-owned electricity industry to make the Olympic-year budget appear it is in the black.

And is anyone going to point out that the Member for Maroubra, Robert Carr, has conveniently scurried off to China just as his local league team South Sydney has been squashed forever by Rupert’s dark forces.

Carr’s silence on this merely serves to confirm his grubby deal with the Murdoch forces.

Anyway, check out this amazing speech that that former Victorian Finance Minister Ian Smith gave to Parliament in 1995 after he sacked his chief of staff Cheryl Harris after getting her pregnant. Disclosure: Crikey used to work for the Minister and helped him write the speech to recover from the Slater and Gordon ambush which was making front page news across the country.

Pregnant and sacked but the reasons were good, says Minister

Mr Ian SMITH (Polwarth) — Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to make this personal explanation.

On Tuesday evening of this week I was first made aware of the allegations against me in the Magistrates Court earlier that day.

This information was conveyed to me by a Herald Sun journalist who had been given a copy of the lodged documents before they were served on me.

The documents were not served on me until approximately 9.50 the next morning, Wednesday, in a blaze of media coverage. This is the first serious breach of the legal process.

The second breach is in the unsubstantiated allegations being publicly aired by Slater and Gordon before the court hearing. Slater and Gordon will be called to account for these disgraceful and unethical actions. Any action by me against Slater and Gordon for redress will be commenced once the Magistrates Court allegations have been disposed of and my name is vindicated.

Cheryl Harris and I have had an intermittent personal relationship over a long time following my separation and divorce. We have also had a strong professional relationship except for lapses of professionalism on her part resulting in many warnings, some of which are documented.

As chief of staff her principal function was to ensure that the proper process and correct procedures were followed at all times and, where necessary, to obtain appropriate technical and expert advice. She was aware of the Premier’s administrative orders and was responsible for bringing them to my attention.

The document purported to be her employment agreement was first seen by me yesterday afternoon after my lawyers obtained a copy from Slater and Gordon. All prior requests to her and to her lawyers for the document had been refused. A copy of the document was not within the finance ministry nor my office, as it should have been, nor was it contained within her computer or other departmental computers to my knowledge. While what looks like my signature is on the document, it is not a document that I have previously read or signed. The document has been fraudulently constructed.

The purpose of the document appears to grossly advantage Cheryl Harris far beyond the limits of employment agreements available to others within the service of the government and is in direct contravention of the Premier’s administrative instruction.

It has been my responsibility to run the work force management unit of the government and to participate in the cabinet subcommittee for industrial relations. Both these responsibilities should have enhanced Cheryl Harris’s knowledge and sense of responsibility in matters of employment agreements.

The finance department has been paying for her part-time attendance after working hours at a course of contract law for the purpose of further enhancing her capacities and her job. I am advised by others of my personal staff that she has been recently removing data from her personal computer.

Highly qualified technicians have since been able to recapture information from a reserve memory in the computer used and some of this information, plus other hidden notes in obscure files, convinced me she has been for some time acting contrary to my best interests and seriously breaching her duty of trust and responsibility.

After a long and serious glandular fever illness, she returned to work lacking in confidence and worried that I would sack her. In spite of my encouragement and support she asked me for a letter of understanding that she could work with me. She prepared a one-and-a-quarter-page letter expressing my intent to employ her while I was a minister. It certainly did not contain clauses in contravention of the Premier’s guidelines and was undated and was not signed by me in a manner I have been alleged to have signed the purported employment agreement. I regarded it as a personal memorandum between her and me to assist her in regaining confidence in her job after her debilitating illness.

I do not know how she obtained my signature on the employment agreement. In her position of trust she did have a small number of signed pages at different positions on each page, some of them without the ministerial insignia at the top, so that they could be used for second or subsequent pages and used only in emergencies when I was not in close proximity to the office. The express understanding was that in such cases she would check with me on the telephone the detail of what would be above my signature. Alternatively, she could have misrepresented the last page to me as a routine document requiring my urgent signature.

I have never had a document involving Cheryl Harris witnessed by my son James. I believe she separately exploited my son James’s belief that I trusted her when she got him to witness the last page of the document. I would only have staff in my office or department witness such a document normally.

I will now turn to some of the more serious personal allegations made against me and aired in the media. In any personal relationships there are statements made that, if viewed later and out of context, appear to be very damaging. The statements of one person can be inadvertently attributed to another, as has happened in this case. The term ‘heel’ was used by Cheryl Harris when she requested on a number of occasions a final chance to resume a relationship with me in February this year. She jokingly said to me, amongst other things, ‘and I have even learned to heel’. This was her term, not mine.

Before the resumption of our personal relationship earlier this year we discussed contraception and Cheryl Harris told me that she had an intra-uterine device fitted and that she would take full responsibility for contraception. The relationship lasted only a few weeks because of a rapid deterioration in her behaviour after the first week.

Approximately two weeks after the relationship ended she advised me she was pregnant, and when I said, ‘Hey, but you told me you had an IUD’, she said that that was not true but that she had acquired the morning-after pill, which she had taken on a number of occasions. I then expressed to her my concern that such a heavy hormone dose may adversely affect the foetus and her pregnancy, and I suggested she should receive some top medical advice.

In relation to pregnancy termination, pregnancies were terminated at her insistence and after repeated demands for large sums of money to pay for the termination and subsequent counselling. On the last occasion she demanded $13 000 but as she had earlier agreed to be responsible for contraception, I was most reluctant to assist. However, her insistence eventually led me to paying $10,000. She advised me of the day that she had arranged pregnancy termination, but two days later rang me and said that she had not proceeded.

I indicated to her that that was her choice but hoped that she would have the decency to return the $10 000. This has not been done.

Cheryl Harris was my chief of staff. Last year her performance of professional duties had deteriorated to such an extent that she was given official warnings that unless she improved, her employment would be terminated. Since February of this year I again had to officially warn her that her work was totally unacceptable and unprofessional and that I would have to transfer her to another department within the government. I emphatically deny that I said I would transfer her employment because she was pregnant or that I would place her in a position like purgatory.

Those people attempting to link threats to transfer Cheryl Harris to her pregnancy can be assured that this was not the case, and there are documentary records confirming official warnings given to her.

I categorically deny violence by me — quite the reverse is the case — and members will recall in 1993 my attendance here with a black eye and facial cuts. They were inflicted by Cheryl Harris.

I hope that in the near future Cheryl Harris has the decency to withdraw her allegations and apologise; and by this to restore some credibility to both of us and honour to the child she is carrying.

Peter Fray

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