Luke Foley has to go

NSW opposition leader Luke Foley Getty Images

This morning Luke Foley appeared to be just over four months away from becoming the next premier of New South Wales.

This afternoon, his political career is over, and like the alleged incident – sliding his hand inside a woman’s underpants and onto her buttocks – he denied for some time ever occurred, he appears to be unwilling to admit it at this point.

The entire episode is yet another unedifying chapter for Australian politics, with a desperate government willing to exploit a woman as collateral damage in an effort to destroy a political opponent.

I’ll get to Foley shortly. Few will not feel sickened by the details from the ABC’s former state political correspondent, Ashleigh Raper, about the NSW Labor leader’s behaviour – he reportedly told Raper on the weekend that he was drunk and couldn’t remember it – but first the circumstances in which it finally became public needs to be canvassed because it’s an issue for the central figure involved.

Raper gave three reasons for outing herself. One was she wants to get on with her life. While the public remained unaware she was at the centre of the November 2016 incident, there’s no doubt many in her profession, as well as politics, knew exactly who they were talking about and knowing it was only a matter of time before someone broke ranks and named her must have been a heavy and terrifying prospect.

Secondly, she cited a wish to end the harassment of women in their jobs and social settings.

The third reason deserves singling out, because, put simply, it’s another reason to dislike politicians.

Raper’s statement today said:

Situations like mine should not be discussed in parliament for the sake of political point scoring.

And I want it to stop.

When NSW Corrections Minister David Elliott first raised the allegations against Foley under parliamentary privilege a fortnight ago, he torched Raper’s privacy to get at the Labor leader. His federal Liberal colleagues then became complicit in that damage for their own political gain.

The inappropriate behaviour of politicians has been at the forefront of political debate for the past year as part of the #metoo fallout, but in using privilege to set the ball rolling in this instance set a dangerous precedent.

At the time Foley threatened to return fire. Now he’s looks set to go down, some other politicians will no doubt be worried who he might take with him.

This could be the start of something much bigger about the way MPs behave beyond the Turnbull “bonk ban” of 12 months ago.

But back to Luke Foley.

The ABC reports that if he doesn’t step down, then his Labor colleagues are prepared to roll him as leader. As they should.

Beyond Raper’s account of what occurred on the night in question, his response over the last fortnight suggests he is someone not worth of the trust of NSW voters to lead the state.

If Raper’s account is to be believed, then Foley rang her and promised to resign as leader either on Monday or Wednesday.

On Tuesday he called her again and reneged on his promise, based on unspecified “legal advice”.

It appears that was the last breach of trust Raper was prepared to tolerate from an opposition leader she’s had to endure for the past fortnight has he squirmed, dissembled and denied what he had done to her.

Her statement today reveals someone who for two years says he knows he’d wronged her, but didn’t know why or what had happened, yet until it went public, appeared incapable of facing her to deal with the matter.

He previously said, asked specifically if he recalled the evening and what happened – before the details had emerged – “yes”.

Even today, knowing the conversation he’d had with her, Foley was telling the ABC he “dealt with the matter comprehensively” and it was behind him.

It would appear the Labor leader thought he could count on Raper’s silence to continue on unscathed. He judged wrongly.

Raper has shown incredible bravery in coming forward and outing herself.

As she detailed today, she never wanted the issue to become public or lodge a complaint because she feared for her job, her reputation and the negative impact it would have on her and her young family.

And she got to the nub of the issue every woman faces when harassed by a powerful (or not) man.

She said: “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.”

It is time for Ashleigh Raper to be allowed to get on with her life.

And to do that, Foley must go. Not just for her, but for everyone in NSW.

His behaviour, not just in that drunken moment but subsequently, shows he is unfit to govern the state.

He should resign now. Fighting on only damages his reputation further and damages everyone involved as a result.