There seems to be a lot of wanking going on around here.
— Cleaver Greene, Rake, ABC TV, June 2016
It is oh-so-tempting to run funny with this one. After all, not even an episode of ABC TV’s politico-legal comedy Rake would dream up a scenario like this.
Nathan Barrett was the new-look poster boy for conservative politics in the NT. Drafted by the governing Country Liberal Party to replace previous CLP leader Terry Mills for the Palmerston seat of Blain in a byelection in April 2014, Barrett was earlier this year given three portfolios — young Territorians, sport and assistant to the Treasurer — by NT Chief Minister Adam Giles. Within weeks he was slotted to take over as NT Treasurer from Dave Tollner, who was dumped from preselection in the next Territory general election due in late August this year.
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By Territory standards at least, Barrett’s CV is impressive: married father of three, church-goer, he holds two degrees and is studying for a third. Before entering politics he had worked as a stockbroker, teacher and, most recently, as a stevedore on the Darwin docks. Not at all bad for a born-and-bred Territorian.
All good — until last Saturday — when this piece by Christopher Walsh in the NT News sank Barrett’s political career, and with it any remaining slim chances of the CLP retaining power at the general election.
“Sports Minister and Assistant Treasurer Nathan Barrett has admitted sending a female constituent two sexually explicit videos of himself in a bathroom … He is seen in the two short videos, sent via Facebook and obtained by the NT News, masturbating with his left hand. The recipient of the video claims she did not solicit the sexually explicit messages.”
The Northern Myth understands that Walsh and NT News deputy editor Ben Smee met with Barrett and his wife for several hours at his electorate office on Friday last week. Barrett insisted that much of the meeting be off the record. The NT News delayed the presses for some hours waiting for a response from Barrett that did not arrive.
At his electorate office Barrett admitted that he had been in an “online affair” with the recipient of the messages (and related emails) that had ended in March this year. Walsh reported that the woman claimed that Barrett had offered her a job when he became treasurer and that the videos were unsolicited. Barrett denied the job offer and said that the affair was consensual. In a statement released later that day Barrett said little about his future political prospects but apologised to the woman involved and said he would seek counselling.
“While this is essentially a private matter that my wife and I have been working through for some time, I unreservedly apologise to my family, the people of my electorate of Blain, my parliamentary colleagues, the party, and the men and women in the Department of Sport and Recreation and Youth Affairs.”
But that was never going to wash with the CLP, and, by early afternoon, Barrett was gone from the NT cabinet — a “horrified” Chief Minister Adam Giles telling the media that Barrett “had to go” from cabinet, at least. Whether Barrett would stay on to contest the election was “a matter for the party.”
“This issue is a matter of what I would see as public interest, because it’s crossing over those elements of what I would call harassment to young women … Sexting is not a relationship issue. Sexting goes beyond that.”
On Sunday, after an urgent meeting of the CLP management committee CLP president Tory Mencshelyi announced that Barrett had decided not to contest the August general election but would remain in the parliament for the remaining eight sitting days, most of which is taken up with Estimates hearings.
On Monday, Amos Aikman in The Australian reported Barrett telling him there was “more to come” in relation to the matter, including emails containing criticism of his CLP colleagues.
“I got into a relationship with a person and we confided in each other … that relationship moved to a place that it shouldn’t have, and I acted inappropriately. At the culmination of that I deleted everything on the understanding the other party was going to do the same …
“That did not happen, and now bits and pieces of our conversation are being released in a distorted fashion to demonise me … A lot of this information is being used as a political smear campaign ahead of the next election.”
Consistent with that view, Mencshelyi has attempted to link the affair to the Labor Party. A Labor spokesman told Aikman that:
“These are ludicrous allegations made by people who belong to the party of the worst government in Australian history … The allegations are denied.”
CLP sources — staring at the increasing likelihood of a first-term defeat — are openly concerned that the August election may match the party’s disastrous performance in the 2005 poll, when Labor won 19 seats against the CLP’s four.