An ABC journalist says NSW Labor leader Luke Foley put his hand inside her underpants during a parliamentary staff Christmas party nearly two years ago.
In a statement issued on Thursday, Ashleigh Raper said she wanted to “set the record straight” about an incident involving Mr Foley at the NSW Parliament Christmas party in Sydney’s CBD in 2016.
At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Foley categorically denied any wrongdoing and revealed his intent to legally fight the claims.
”I’ve retained solicitors and senior counsel to advise on the immediate commencement of defamation proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia,” he said in a brief statement to media.
He also announced his resignation as Opposition Leader saying it was “just not possible” to clear his name and fight an election at the same time.
Ms Raper claimed Mr Foley called her on Sunday to apologise, telling her: “I’m not a philanderer, I’m not a groper, I’m just a drunk idiot”.
Sha claims he told her he would resign as leader of the NSW Labor Party either on Monday or Wednesday.
However, according to Ms Raper, he called back on Tuesday to backtrack, saying he won’t be resigning based on legal advice.
In her statement she said the incident that had been the source of widespread speculation involved Mr Foley putting his hand down the back of her dress at a bar in Martin Place following the function involving politicians, their staff and journalists at Parliament House.
“He stood next to me. He put his hand through a gap in the back of my dress and inside my underpants. He rested his hand on my buttocks. I completely froze,” she said.
She said the incident was witnessed by another journalist, but she did not make a complaint for a number of reasons – including for fear of losing her job and the negative impact it would have on her family.
But the matter resurfaced in October when Liberal minister David Elliott raised it in NSW parliament.
The ABC also released a statement, confirming its support for Ms Raper.
“There is absolutely no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Ms Raper and her career should not be affected in any way,” the statement read.
Ashleigh Raper’s full statement
This is a position I never wanted to be in and a statement I never intended to make.
But I think the time has come for my voice to be heard, for the following reasons:
The escalation of the public debate, including in state and federal parliament, despite my expressed wish to neither comment nor complain, and the likelihood of ongoing media and political interest.
Two recent phone conversations with the Leader of the New South Wales Opposition Luke Foley.
To set the record straight.
In November 2016 I attended an official Christmas function at New South Wales Parliament House for state political reporters, politicians and their staff.
This is what happened on that night.
The party moved from Parliament House to Martin Place Bar after a number of hours.
Later in the evening, Luke Foley approached a group of people, including me, to say goodnight.
He stood next to me.
He put his hand through a gap in the back of my dress and inside my underpants.
He rested his hand on my buttocks.
I completely froze.
This was witnessed by Sean Nicholls, who was then the state political editor at the Sydney Morning Herald and is now an ABC journalist.
Mr Foley then left the bar.
Sean and I discussed what happened.
As shaken as I was, I decided not to take any action and asked Sean to keep the events in the strictest confidence.
He has honoured that.
I chose not to make a complaint for a number of reasons.
It is clear to me that a woman who is the subject of such behaviour is often the person who suffers once a complaint is made.
I cherished my position as a state political reporter and feared that would be lost.
I also feared the negative impact the publicity could have on me personally and on my young family.
This impact is now being felt profoundly.
When a reporter contacted me earlier this year after hearing about the incident, I informed ABC news management about Mr Foley’s actions.
I told them I didn’t wish to make a complaint or for any further action to be taken.
They respected my request for privacy and have offered me nothing but their absolute care and support.
David Elliot raised the matter in the New South Wales Parliament last month, putting the incident in the public domain.
The matter then became a state and federal political issue and resulted in intense media attention.
This occurred without my involvement or consent.
Last Sunday (4 November) Luke Foley called me on my mobile phone and we had a conversation that lasted 19 minutes.
He said he was sorry and that he was full of remorse for his behaviour towards me at the Press Gallery Christmas function in November 2016.
He told me that he had wanted to talk to me about that night on many occasions over the past two years because, while he was drunk and couldn’t remember all the details of the night, he knew he did something to offend me.
He apologised again and told me, “I’m not a philanderer, I’m not a groper, I’m just a drunk idiot”.
He said he would be resigning as the leader of the New South Wales Labor Party on either the next day (Monday, 5 November) or Wednesday (7 November).
He said he couldn’t resign on the Tuesday because it was Melbourne Cup Day and he didn’t want to be accused of burying the story.
On Tuesday (6 November) Mr Foley called me again.
He repeated his apology and told me he owed me “a lot of contrition”.
He informed me he’d received legal advice not to resign as Opposition Leader.
He indicated he intended to follow that advice.
There are three things I want to come from my decision to make this statement.
First, women should be able to go about their professional lives and socialise without being subject to this sort of behaviour.
And I want it to stop.
Second, situations like mine should not be discussed in parliament for the sake of political point scoring.
And I want it to stop.
Third, I want to get on with my life.
I do not wish to make any further comment.