NSW Opposition leader Luke Foley has resigned following a public statement from ABC reporter Ashleigh Raper, who accused the politician of inappropriately touching her at a 2016 Christmas party.
Foley told reporters in a brief press conference on Thursday afternoon that the allegations against him are false and he has sought legal advice to start defamation proceedings.
“I can’t fight to clear my name and fight an election at the same time. It’s just not possible to do both. I’ll be remaining as member for Auburn and returning to the backbench.”
He refused to take questions from reporters.
Earlier on Thursday, Raper released a public statement in regards to Foley’s behaviour at a Christmas function at New South Wales Parliament House for state political reporters, politicians and their staff in 2016.
Raper said Foley approached her at the party and put his hand on her back before sliding it beneath her dress and into her underpants.
“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,” she said.
“I completely froze.”
The incident was witnessed by Sean Nicholls, who was then the state political editor at the Sydney Morning Herald and is now an ABC journalist. Raper said the pair discussed what had happened but that she decided not to take the matter any further as she didn’t want it to impede her career or hurt her young family.
Raper had stayed quiet on the matter, not even telling her superiors at the ABC, but the matter was thrust into the public domain when Liberal party member David Elliott raised it in parliament, making it public knowledge.
“The matter then became a state and federal political issue and resulted in intense media attention,” Raper said. “This occurred without my involvement or consent.”
Raper also detailed a phone call she had with Foley on Sunday in which he apologised for his actions and told her he intended to resign this week. However, he called again on Tuesday to say that he had decided against resigning after receiving legal advice.
“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,” she said.
“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.”
Raper concluded her statement by saying she was disappointed an incident she had wished to keep private and move on from had been “discussed in parliament for the sake of political point scoring” and that she wanted to move on with her life.
She said she would not be making further comment on the matter.
Starts at 60 has contacted Luke Foley’s office for comment. He had not replied at the time of publishing.