SA’s Labor Premier Mike Rann is this afternoon fighting for his political life.
Last night, Channel Seven’s Sunday Night broadcast a report in which a former barmaid at Parliament House gave lurid descriptions of a sexual relationship with the Premier.
“There was sexual contact and intimacy involved,” barmaid Michelle Chantelois told Channel Seven.
“He had me on his desk, his Parliament house desk, in his office … When it was finished it was almost like, ‘OK, I have a meeting now, I have to go’.”
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Chantelois was married at the time of the affair.
At a Labor fundraiser in October, her now-estranged husband allegedly whacked Rann with a rolled-up magazine. Crikey has a statement, received the morning after the fundraiser, quoting witnesses who claim to have heard the husband say to the Premier, “You remember my wife.”
Rann was asked by the media the following day if he knew what the husband was talking about.
“No,” he replied.
This morning, that looks like a lie.
Rann’s media machine is now in overdrive. Some reporters reporting this story were guests at Rann’s wedding. One normally invites best friends to a wedding. Over the weekend some reporters wrote unconfirmed, unsubstantiated stories that Seven reputedly paid Chantelois $200,000 for the interview. Seven said this morning it was far less than six figures, but today Rann said he was told she was paid “an enormous” amount. He doesn’t say who told him, but he could have read it in newspapers. Ex-Labor Senator now lobbyist Nick Bolkus repeats it. “Kerry Stokes paid her 200-grand or thereabouts,” Bolkus said.
If there’s an implication that the more the pay the more discredited the speaker, consider that MPs get paid more than most people.
There’s one question people want answered: “Mr Premier, did you have sex with that woman?” This morning he did not deny it.
Can he survive the scandal? Kevin Foley, whose job as treasurer depends on Labor winning the next election, spoke in support. Junior minister Tom Koutsantonis, whose portfolio is allocated by the Premier, spoke in support. Bolkus, whose access to and relationship with Labor is important to his lobbying work — he’s the chief of the ALP’s fund-raising arm — spoke in support.
The Liberals said nothing. Silence is the Midas touch.
But Labor ministers were already discussing who might replace Rann should he go. Two weeks ago, deputy premier Foley said his personal problems regarding relationships with women — he said he was sad and lonely, a lost and anguished soul with a self-confessed reputation as a bully and a womaniser — were compounded by his clinical depression. If Rann quits, a deal between the Left and the dominant Right factions could see the Left’s Patrick Conlon take the top job.
But Labor’s problems are deeper than a lack of heir apparent. For the greater part of Rann’s current term the government has been wracked by allegations and perceptions of corruption relating to political donations, and of Labor nakedly getting into bed with developers who pay for the privilege. The government has introduced new legislation that can send people to jail on secret evidence less credible than was heard last night. (That legislation has already been ruled illegal in the Supreme Court and is now on appeal by the government in the High Court). In Parliament, Labor ministers accused respected Adelaide figures of criminal behaviour without a shred of evidence. The government has broken promises on open space which it sold to developers, on social justice, on workers’ compensation, taxpayer-funded political advertising and the misuse of public money.
Yet with just four months to go until the election, Labor has held its own in the opinion polls and until last night looked likely to win in March.
The latest scandal is compounded by Rann’s apparent lack of complete honesty when dealing with the accusations when they first surfaced. When asked the day after the assault if he knew his alleged assailant, the Premier said no — he had never met before. He now says he invited Chantelois and her husband to his house and provided her with support during a court case involving her husband.
“He was coaching me how to lie and what to say,” Ms Chantelois said of Rann last night. “He organised to have (Rann’s wife) Sasha leave a message and then later on have (my husband) Rick listen to that message to say ‘Hey you know, listen to this Rick, it is just a friendship. Even Sasha knows that we’re friends’.”
The husband, Richard Phillips, held his own media conference outside his home this morning, calling on the Premier to resign.
The Premier and the rest of cabinet are meeting in the pro-Labor southern suburbs today, and the Premier is expected to make a statement later today.
Can Rann survive? This morning, he looked as though he would, like Custer, make a stand.
There are greater scandals in SA Labor than sex on the desk.
And, dare it possibly be said while everyone’s sharpening the knife, as great a hypocrisy in the electorate as at parliament over matters private.
Hendrik Gout is editor of Adelaide’s Independent Weekly.