If NSW Labor Opposition Leader Luke Foley loses his job on the basis of innuendo alone then none are safe from the new puritanism, male and female alike. But women will suffer most. Especially real victims.

The Foley story so far

The allegation against Luke Foley is that Luke Foley allegedly got drunk and allegedly harassed a female ABC journalist at a function in Sydney’s CBD in 2016.

That is it.

There is no indication what the ‘harassment’ was.

Fairfax reported on 24 October that:

Corrections Minister David Elliott raised the claim against Mr Foley under parliamentary privilege last week.

At a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra on Tuesday evening, acting ABC head David Anderson was questioned about the incident.

Mr Anderson told the estimates hearing that the public broadcaster would investigate the allegation.

Liberal senator Eric Abetz asked Mr Anderson: “Will that investigation include speaking to other colleagues of the victim she might have raised [concerns] with?”

Mr Anderson responded: “Yes, we’ll definitely be looking at this … I’ll give you an undertaking we’ll investigate.”

Apparently the Labor Party is today doing the numbers, suggesting Foley won’t survive The Liberals are said to be preparing dirt sheet on likely successors. Classy stuff. Here’s a tip to the Libs: if you are preparing dirt sheets, don’t tell anyone. No one wants to see how the sausage is made.

We only know what we don’t know

If you work in the NSW Parliament as either a staffer or journalist (sometimes, though, that line is blurred) your phone would be melting down with gossip. Chinese whispers would be running hot and each text and WhatsApp message will be slowly eroding Foley’s career.

Did he get drunk and touch a journalist up? We don’t know.

Did he proposition her? We don’t know.

Did something happen? We don’t know.

Did he contact the journalist and apologise for any incident which might have occurred and could have been taken the wrong way the way adults sometimes do? We don’t know.

We don’t even know if there was an incident.

The frightening element is that we don’t know how two adults who presumably work in close proximity (as reporter and subject) dealt with the issue. Here’s a newsflash: adults have the right to deal with these issues as adults without publicity. There is no need for any of this to be made public if the female journalist against whom the incident is alleged to have occurred has chosen not to pursue it formally. This is her right.

If there was an issue.

Why this matters

It is essential that we all understand a baseline of accetable behaviour so we can judge whether certain events have crossed that line. We need to understand what is acceptable and what isn’t.

It is wrong to touch a co-worker – this should not be up for debate. But is it wrong if you’ve caught their eye a few times to suggest a coffee?

Humans working together send a thousand signals a day whether they know it or not and these can either be understood or misread.

In the case of Luke Foley we don’t know what happened, but this might be what occurred.

Curiously it appears the matter was not raised with the reporter’s management chain at the ABC.

If indeed it was a misunderstanding between two adults rather than ‘harassment’, there is no need on the innuendo we know so far for the incident to be investigated. Adults can move on, and it appears the journalist did. In this case, her thoughts on the incident are unknown but they are all that matters.

Politics ruins everything

The NSW Liberals were in opposition from 1995 to 2011. Since their return to power they’ve had a hard time. Since 2011 they have lost two premiers and not done much successfully. They’ve irritated everyone in Sydney with the light rail and stadium debacles, and they’ve been smashed in the recent by-election in Orange.

Luke Foley has started to rise in the polls.

This incident gives the Liberals some hope of a late run resurrection ahead of the March 2019 election but it is a very dangerous game to play. You can bet everything you’ve got that there are Liberals and Nationals wondering whether they need to have frank discussions with their long-suffering spouses about that Christmas party or trip away. The word ‘Barnaby’ would be echoing through many heads today.

This is a dirty game and the Liberals should be ashamed for raising it – even if it is true.

What if something happened

At this stage, so what?

So what if there was an incident that the woman did not think was serious enough to report? That’s the most important part of this sorry episode. Not every event requires an investigation. Sometimes, adults may choose to deal with them outside official circles. Like adults. So long as there is no coercion and the victim is satisfied with the outcome, the matter should end. The ‘victim’ is all that matters.

The way this has been handled by the NSW Liberals is beyond a disgrace.

This is in stark contrast to the situation with children abused by clergy.

In those instances a crime had been committed and police should have taken action, partly because the children were not in a position to make a judgment call on the severity of the incident. Everything there evolves around consent, which a child cannot give.

It is interesting that this incident has some similarities to the Brett Kavanaugh allegations, with one enormous difference. There are likely witnesses to the event and contemporaneous reports. In other words, there are rumours from the time of the incident that something might have occurred.

This is not a concern for the journalist (although it may cause her discomfort to know people are talking about her) but it should be a concern to the many journalists in Australia who were so quick to slam Kavanaugh but are exhibiting due caution in this case. This is not to say that they should be slamming Foley; rather, that they should have adopted the same caution when tweeting about Kavanaugh.

Of course there is one essential difference between the Kavanaugh and Foley: Foley is on the left.