It’s Never The Crime, It’s Always The Cover-Up: Greens Set To Implode Over Sexual Assault Allegations

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Let’s re-imagine, just for a minute, last week’s furore around the alleged sexual assault of ABC journalist Ashleigh Raper by former NSW Labor leader Luke Foley.

Let’s imagine that instead of resigning from the leadership within 24 hours, that Foley and the Labor Party instead branded Ms Raper a drug-using slut. Deeply offensive, I know, but stick with me.

Let’s imagine that after levelling those allegations, Foley refused to stand down and the Labor Party refused to even debate internally whether or not he should.

Now let’s try and imagine the public and media response to Ms Raper having her character assassinated for having the audacity to speak out against a politician in a position of power who sexually assaulted her.

The fact is, you don’t actually have to try particularly hard to imagine it. You only need to know the story of Ella Buckland, a former Greens NSW staffer who earlier this year levelled startlingly similar allegations against Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham.

Like Ms Raper, Ms Buckland alleges that after a work function, she was sexually assaulted by a drunken politician.

Like Ms Raper, Ms Buckland alleges that following the alleged assault, she received a phone call from her alleged attacker.

Like Ms Raper, Ms Buckland waited a considerable period of time to air those allegations.

Like Ms Raper, Ms Buckland was the subject of defamation threats when the issue became public.

Those are the commonalities. The differences, however, are stark.

Former NSW Labor leader, Luke Foley. (IMAGE: Kate Ausburn, Flickr)

In Ms Raper’s case, Luke Foley allegedly slipped his hand down her dress and between her underpants, resting his hand on her bare buttocks. In Ms Buckland’s case, Mr Buckingham allegedly approached her from behind, grabbed her “roughly on the vagina” and kissed her neck.

In Ms Raper’s case, she was dragged into the public fray by a Coalition politician seeking to exploit a political advantage. In Ms Buckland’s case, her motivation in coming forward was publicly and falsely ascribed to her being involved in a factional move against Mr Buckingham. Ms Buckland has not been a member of the Greens for several years and has no day-to-day involvement in politics.

In Ms Raper’s case, she received a phone call from her alleged abuser, who apologised and promised to resign. In Ms Buckland’s case, she received a phone call from her alleged abuser who threatened that she should be ‘careful in her job’.

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In Ms Raper’s case, she subsequently received threats of defamation when the issue became public, only to have those threats widely shouted down. In Ms Buckland’s case, she received threats of defamation before the issue even became public, and Mr Buckingham has gone on to threaten to sue – and actively sue – multiple people.

In Ms Raper’s case, there was a startlingly swift resolution to the issue. Luke Foley announced his resignation almost immediately. Ms Buckland made her complaint internally through the Greens in April. It took months to progress, but not before a subsequent internal investigation finally turned the blow torch on Ms Buckland herself, investigating the baseless allegations that she was a ‘promiscuous drug user’.

The other glaring differences, of course, included the reactions of media and politicians.

In terms of the media response, the alleged assault on Ashleigh Raper was a major news story that dominated news coverage last week. The fall out is still being felt a week later. Ella Buckland’s alleged assault attracted far less interest. With the exception of the ABC, who broke the Buckland story in August and followed it up on Radio National just a day before the Foley allegations broke, no other mainstream media outlet has seen fit to report a syllable of the allegations levelled by Ms Buckland.

Greens NSW MP Jeremy Buckingham.

The most unkind interpretation of that silence is that when women are allegedly sexually assaulted, media interest is optional. But when journalists are allegedly sexually assaulted, it’s stacks on.

Fortunately, in the brave new world of social media, mainstream news outlets no longer control all the channels of public communication. That’s where the reactions of politicians come into focus.

Over the past week, anger at the difference in the treatment of Ms Buckland and Ms Raper has been blowing up on social media, with a growing number of people doing the job of the mainstream media by calling out the obvious hypocrisy between the two approaches.

Square in the gun of that growing public outrage has been the actions of Greens politicians, most of whom stayed silent for months over the Buckland allegations, but wasted no time in coming out to condemn Luke Foley.

Greens MLA Cate Faehrmann weighed into the Foley issue last week. The condemnation of her obvious hypocrisy was swift.

That public condemnation of Faehrmann comes in the absence of all the facts, which are actually much worse than they appear. Not only has Faerhmann said nothing publicly about the alleged assault on Ella Buckland, she recently voted in a Greens NSW State Delegates Council meeting against any debate on whether or not Mr Buckingham should stand down from his position while an internal investigation was ongoing.

Read that again: Faerhmann didn’t just vote against any action being taken against Buckingham, she voted to suppress any debate about any action being taken against Buckingham.

Greens MP for the seat of Newtown, Jenny Leong has also seen fit to weigh publicly into the fray around Foley, while having nothing to say about Jeremy Buckingham.

Leong, however, did find time to support colleague Mehreen Faruqi (another Greens Senator who has stayed silent on the allegations) for getting trolled on social media for doing her job.

Sarah Hanson-Young, a federal Greens member, also weighed in, and also came under fire.

Only two significant Greens figures anywhere in the country have been prepared to say anything about the matter publicly – NSW MLA David Shoebridge and former Greens federal Senator for NSW, Lee Rhiannon.

Labor, obviously, handled their crisis much better. Even Bill Shorten, the federal leader of the Labor Party and a man known for his inability to avoid spin at every available opportunity, weighed into the debate, saying, “Modern society has no tolerance for the behaviour described.”

So how did the Greens federal leader, Richard Di Natale respond to the Buckland allegations?

Helpfully, he was asked about them by Fran Kelly, on ABC Radio National less than 24 hours before the Foley allegations broke. The response is telling.

FRAN KELLY: Are you satisfied this matter has been dealt with appropriately?

DI NATALE: Well as you’ve said Fran, that was the subject of an independent external investigation and obviously it’s a matter for the NSW Greens to respond to that.

KELLY: Have you intervened in any way?

DI NATALE: We have very clearly protocols about how these are dealt with. We’ve respond based on the advice of a number of women’s groups, a number of experts in this field. We’ve got clear protocols. We had an independent investigation take place and we’ve made it very clear the party needs to take these cases, treat them really seriously, create an environment where women come forward and are supported in taking action, and we’ve done those things, and now this is a matter for the NSW Greens.

KELLY: Does Jeremy Buckingham have your confidence?

DI NATALE: Well, as I said Fran this is now a matter for the NSW Greens…

KELLY: Well you’re the leader of the Greens, does he have your confidence?

DI NATALE: Well I’m the leader of the federal party. And our federal party has made it very clear there is no role for members of parliament to be making judgements about cases that have been thoroughly investigated, and that’s as it should be.”

The deafening silence and spin aside, that last statement – about a ‘thorough investigation’ – is the claim on which Di Natale should perhaps stand most condemned.

It is that very ‘thorough investigation’ which led directly to the allegations against Ella Buckland that she was a ‘promiscuous intravenous drug user’.

If that’s what a ‘thorough Greens-led investigation’ looks like, you have to wonder what hope there is for the party.

Having said that, there are good people within Greens NSW, and the party more broadly, who have worked hard internally to take the right path on this issue. I acknowledge that sometimes, the right path is a difficult one to map out.

The Greens have, to some extent, been frozen by a strong belief in affording procedural fairness to Jeremy Buckingham, while also supporting Ella Buckland. But that begs one simple question: Why have Greens MLA’s been prepared to afford Jeremy Buckingham that ‘procedural fairness’, but not Luke Foley?

Former NSW Greens staffer, Ella Buckland, who alleges she was sexually assaulted by Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham in 2011. (IMAGE: Supplied)

Why did Greens politicians who had nothing to say about the alleged assault of one of their own, by one of the own, not feel the same weight of ethical constraints when it came to a member of the Labor Party?

The answer is obvious: politics.

While that plays out, in all its unedifying glory, the Greens continue to tie themselves in knots, determined to ‘respect the process’, despite the outcome.

As we speak, fresh moves are afoot within the party to remove Jeremy Buckingham from the Greens’ ballot in the March 2019 state election. We’ll have that story in a day or so, and there are more revelations to come. New Matilda’s investigation into the Greens handling of sexual assault allegations is ongoing, albeit moving at the snail’s pace for which we’re famous (you can help speed it up by clicking on the link directly below and contributing to our fundraiser).

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Whatever the outcome though, the Greens, as a party, has clearly lost its way. On this issue at least, it is hopelessly compromised.

The last word belongs to Ashleigh Raper, whose dignified and moving statement should be required reading for all men in power, and for all political parties.

“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,” Ms Raper wrote.

“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.”

I’m sure Ella Buckland, who did lose her dream job, can empathise.

New Matilda’s investigation into the alleged assault of Ella Buckland is ongoing. If you have any information to contribute, you can contact the author here on Facebook, here on Twitter, by email here, or via his mobile, 0407 555 328. You can contribute to our fundraiser to keep this investigation going by donating here.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. Chris has won a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards for his reporting. He lives in Brisbane and splits his time between Stradbroke Island, where New Matilda is based, and the mainland.

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