Candidate for Higgins Jason Ball stands in the foreground.

On Wednesday morning, The Australian and Chip Le Grand produced a piece about allegations of sexual harassment in the Greens, but with a different tone than many we’ve read before:

For more than a year, Jason Ball has been shadowed by an embarrassing but innocuous sexual encounter which, if released into the combustive atmosphere of a federal election and the MeToo movement, could destroy his campaign for the seat of Higgins.

It’s strange to see a News Corp paper going in to bat for a Green. What’s the story behind the story here? We’ve decided to revive our Fingerprints format to examine how and why this story came about.

Who benefits?

The Greens are a primary beneficiary of this story. Their internal processes in response to several claims of sexual harassment within the party has been a subject of ongoing criticism for a year — Le Grand describes their relationship with Me Too as “bittersweet” on account of the party supporting the movement but having been “badly burned” by allegations. He writes:

In NSW, the party has spent the past six months engulfed by a sexual harassment complaint against state MP Jeremy Buckingham made by a former Greens research assistant. An independent investi­gation examined the complaint and recommended no adverse finding against the MP. This failed to contain the allegations, which eventually prompted Buckingham to quit the party.

In Victoria, a 21-year-old university student standing as a candidate in an unwinnable seat was publicly accused of rape on the eve of the state election. The party suspended his campaign. It has heard nothing since from the woman who made the complaint. The allegations remain untested.

Ball obviously benefits — he gets ahead of any potential negative story ahead of the looming federal election. Crikey is not suggesting there were any shortcomings to the Greens’ investigation or that Ball is guilty of anything.

On the other hand, the Oz gets an exclusive, and in its sympathetic reporting of a gay Greens candidate, can claim some balance. Perhaps also noteworthy, the story runs the same day News Corp fave Peta Credlin announces she won’t be running in Higgins.

Who loses?

The story explicitly links Victorian Labor to the smearing of Greens candidates and staffers in the last state election, and pre-emptively flags the federal ALP’s tactics for the federal election:

The ALP ran a highly effective negative campaign against the Greens, built largely on unproven sexual misconduct allegations against Greens candidates and MPs, during November’s Victorian election and have vowed to do the same when the nation goes to the polls this year.

The Oz‘s stablemate The Herald Sun (the natural home for hit pieces about Victorian Greens) misses out on a salacious exposé of Ball’s “brief tryst behind the toilet door of a gay nightclub”, which the Hun would’ve dropped at a time intended to do him maximum damage.

Connections

Le Grand has previously written about Me Too and the allegations against Phillips and Buckingham in the following terms:

Phillips, with his professional life ahead of him, is facing an uncorroborated and ­unproven rape allegation that may never be investigated, much less resolved.

…How can an untested allegation of serious sexual assault become the daily fodder of a state political campaign? For the Greens, the origins can be found early in the #MeToo movement, when factional rivals of NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham helped facilitate the airing of a seven-year-old sexual harassment complaint against him by Ella Buckland, a former Greens research assistant.  

The Oz’s columnists have frequently written about the broad “dangers” of Me Too. Last week, Bettina Ardnt wrote of “the dangerous witch-hunt that followed” the Harvey Weinstein case, while Janet Albrechtsen has written frequently of the connection between the Me Too movement and “the new puritanism”.

Last year, in a piece that started out as a condemnation of men like David Elliott and Eric Abetz for partisan weaponising of Me Too, Albrechtsen also found time to observe “many women have man­ipulated the social media campaign for their own purposes, corrupting its focus and undermining its credibility”. 

Conclusion

The Greens defuse a potentially damaging story, undercuts one of Labor’s most effective campaign weapons against them and have their candidate described as “a serious contender”. The Oz gets a kick in at the tactics of its least favorite state government, and adds some ammunition to the “maybe don’t always believe the victims” wing of its culture war. Welcome to an election year; Crikey is sure this isn’t the last strange bedfellows we’ll see. 

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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