Luke Foley should have resigned as NSW Labor leader the moment the ABC released Ashleigh Raper’s statement on Thursday afternoon. It was immediately apparent from the allegations made by Raper that his leadership was untenable.
Instead, hour after hour went by during the afternoon, with no word from Foley or NSW Labor. It was not until more than three hours later that one of his MPs, Trish Doyle, called for him to resign. Belatedly, Foley announced his exit at 5.30pm, insisting that Raper’s claims were all false and that he would be suing her, but that he couldn’t do that and fight an election at the same time. Foley’s apparent determination to litigate over the issue ensures the matter will now remain in the headlines all the way to the election next March — and beyond.
So, we might ask, what did Foley achieve during his time as leader? He made the right to torture and kill greyhounds his standard and went into battle against Mike Baird’s ban on that vile industry. He exploited the selfishness and NIMBYism of council merger opponents to stymie the eminently sensible program of the Baird government to overhaul NSW’s rotten local government system. And it’s hard to recall a single infrastructure project that Foley supported.
But Foley’s scandal is just another entry in a long list of challenges for NSW Labor. Remember, this is a party that has never properly reformed itself since the rampant corruption of Obeid and Tripodi and Macdonald. The replacement of Foley by Michael Daley (as seems likely) won’t address the basic problem that NSW Labor remains unfit to govern the country’s most populous state.
For Gladys Berejiklian and the NSW Coalition, it’s a double-edged sword. Labor was uncomfortably close in the polls and there was a real chance Foley may have become premier at the election next March. His departure removes that immediate threat, but it’s possible his replacement, with five months to polling day, will offer a different kind of threat to a government that for all its achievements has often been poorly led.
Beyond the banal politics, there is ABC journalist Ashleigh Raper, who insists she wanted to remain silent about the issue because of the harmful impacts for women who speak out about harassment — itself a profound indictment of contemporary media ethics and wider workplace cultures. NSW government minister David Elliott, against the wishes and without the knowledge of Raper, used parliamentary privilege to raise the allegations against Foley several weeks ago. Many have condemned him for using Raper’s experience as political ammunition without her consent. It was a further exploitation of workplace power imbalance, not as bad as the original alleged offence, but exactly the kind of disempowerment women risk: to not merely endure harassment, but to lose whatever agency they have about how they respond to it.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.