The Nationals have been unable to make a finding on the claim by a woman that former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce sexually harassed her.
Catherine Marriott, former West Australian Rural Woman of the Year, made the allegation at the height of the controversy over Joyce’s affair with his former staffer (and now partner), Vikki Campion. He claimed at the time it was the tipping point that led him to quit the Nationals’ leadership, although he has said subsequently when Campion became pregnant, he always knew he would have to go.
Marriott, who made the complaint in confidence, was highly upset when her name was quickly leaked.
She said in a Friday statement expressing her frustration at the inconclusive result of the eight months investigation that “this outcome simply isn’t good enough”.
She had been told by email on Thursday that the NSW National Party “has been unable to make a determination … due to insufficient evidence”.
“This is despite the investigation finding I was ‘forthright, believable, open and genuinely upset’ by the incident.
“The result of this investigation has underpinned what is wrong with the process and the absolute dire need for change”, she said.
Joyce on Friday had no comment beyond standing by what he had said initially, when he described the accusation as “spurious and defamatory”.
Marriott said she was “extremely disappointed that after eight months of waiting, three trips to the east coast at my own expense to meet with the party, my name and confidential complaint being leaked to the national media, and my personal and professional life being upended, the National Party have reached a ‘no conclusion’ verdict.”
But she said she wasn’t surprised because the party hadn’t had an external process in place to deal with such a complaint “My complaint was handled internally by the NSW National Party executive with no professional external expert brought in at any stage.”
She said the only positive outcome from a “harrowing experience” had been “the development of much improved policy by the party”, which she had encouraged. She was heartened that people who found themselves in similar situations in future “will have a robust policy in place to assist them”.
The outcome of the investigation comes as the Liberal party has been rocked by allegations of bullying during the leadership battle. Several Liberal women have spoken out strongly against the bad behaviour, and MPs are waiting to see whether individuals are named in parliament next week.
Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce is under intense new pressure following a call from backbencher Andrew Broad for him to stand down and an allegation that he sexually harassed a woman.
Broad said he would raise the leadership issue at Monday’s party meeting, saying that Joyce’s going to the backbench would be in the best interests of Joyce, the party and the government.
Meanwhile, a woman has made a complaint to Nationals federal president Larry Anthony accusing Joyce of sexual harassment.
Joyce strongly denied the allegation, saying it was “spurious” and “defamatory”, and went back to something 18 months ago.
“I ask the person to refer it to the police because I deserve my opportunity of defending myself,” he said.
After Broad’s salvo, the party’s Senate leader, Nigel Scullion, locked in behind Joyce. Its deputy leader Bridget McKenzie said: “There is no stronger advocate for regional Australia than Barnaby Joyce”.
But while Joyce earlier seemed to have shored up his position, there is now once again great doubt that he can survive. A self-justifying interview he gave to Fairfax defending himself appears to have backfired.
Eyes will now be on whether junior minister Michael McCormack signals he is willing to challenge Joyce. McCormack is considered the only viable alternative. He trailed his coat in a Sky interview earlier in the week, refusing to back Joyce multiple times before finally doing so.
Broad, who is the member for the Victorian seat of Mallee, on Thursday said in an interview on ABC Radio Statewide Drive Victoria: “It’s about having your mind clear to do the job”.
He said that at this point, Joyce’s “judgement is erred, he’s not thinking in a place where he can be put up as the acting prime minister of Australia. Some time out and hopefully some time to regroup and he may come back to make a further contribution.”
Broad, who spoke to Joyce before making his call, said he would be taking a resolution to the meeting from the local party members in his electorate saying Joyce should stand down.
He criticised Joyce for the high media profile he has adopted this week when he is supposedly on leave.
“He’s meant to be taking a break and he’s clearly playing to the media. You know, this is an issue that we should have let quietly die, and let’s get on with the core job but he’s not prepared to do that.”
Earlier – after the death of evangelist Billy Graham – Broad tweeted:
Scullion said: “If I was a betting man I’d think that Barnaby Joyce will still be deputy prime minister through the end of Monday”.
Scullion told the ABC he disagreed completely with Broad. “I’ve worked closely with Barnaby and I can tell you that right up to when he took leave … he had his mind completely on the job.”
“So we’ll get back on Monday and I hope and I trust that the National Party will return Barnaby to the leader[ship],” Scullion said.
“I have to say to Broado … he didn’t actually have to do that. I’m quite sure when Barnaby would have come in, let me tell you Barnaby is not a man who is afraid of democracy, so I suspect he would have come in and said by the way I’m going to spill my position just so you can all have a clear run at it,” Scullion said.
McKenzie said all Nationals MPs were welcome to bring issues to the partyroom. She also pointed out in a statement that Monday’s meeting would not be a full partyroom meeting, because of Senate estimates hearings.
Party sources noted there could not be a spill motion moved at that meeting. There would need to be a meeting of all 21 MPs for that to happen.
It was such a cliché. At the office Christmas party of the national TV show where I worked, I emerged from the loo out the back to find one of my bosses straddling the doorway, blocking my way and waiting to pounce.
I was shocked, not so much by his sexual harassment (that was de rigueur in the newsroom cultures of the day, the 1990s), as by the extent of his male entitlement and misogyny. At the time I was still breastfeeding my baby daughter, who was next door at the party with her dad and my colleagues.
This week’s revelations that TV’s darling of nearly 20 years, Don Burke of Burke’s Backyard fame, was allegedly a “psychotic bully”, a “misogynist” and a “sexual predator” who indecently assaulted, sexually harassed and bullied a string of female employees comes as no surprise to women in Australian media. According to last year’s Women in Media Report, nearly half of us have been abused, intimidated or harassed in our working lives.
Once sexual assault allegations against Hollywood boss Harvey Weinstein exploded in the media, the open secret of male abuse of power over women was out. Social media was awash with #Metoo; in France, #BalanceTonPorc (“expose your pig”) flooded Twitter with stories of sexual harassment and assault.
New allegations appeared almost every day against other powerful men in various industries, including head of Amazon Studios Roy Price, political journalist Mark Halperin, editor at NPR Michael Oreske, Hollywood screenwriter and director James Toback, actors Ben Affleck and Kevin Spacey, comedian Louis CK, reinforcing the seeming incongruity of a self-described grabber of pussies, Donald Trump, being elected US president.
A rising swell
It feels like a rising swell, a great wave of truth-telling gathering force and breadth, the crest white and flickering, teetering at the top, ready to curl and roar down upon us all, washing away thousands of years of male power and privilege. But is it?
Or will it peak, then withdraw and ebb away, diluted back into the ocean of sexist norms dominating the world and responsible for the perpetuation of sexual violence against women?
Some journalists are hopeful, because at last, in the Burke case, even some blokes have broken ranks and ratted on him.
Journalist Juanita Phillips is optimistic that “two industry veterans – David Leckie and Sam Chisholm – went on the record to condemn Burke in no uncertain terms. He was a disgrace, they said. A horrible, horrible man”. She found it significant that industry executives – the very keepers of the gates of male privilege – spoke out against one of their own.
It’s true the endemic abuse of women in media and entertainment has been enabled over all these years by the collusion of the men in charge. Until now, executive men have largely closed ranks and protected the perpetrators of abuse, harassment and assault against women colleagues.
This is not only because, like Burke, some harassers were cash cows for the companies and networks involved. It was also, and I believe mainly, because these perpetrators were part of the club; part of the same culture that saw the executives themselves rise to the top and stay there.
They not only had a vested interest in maintaining the cultural norm, it was their norm.
Peer-reviewed global literature clearly proves that men perpetrate violence against women when there is masculine dominance in society, when they identify with traditional masculinity and male privilege, believe in rigid gender roles, have weak support for gender equality, and hold negative attitudes towards women.
Our research at the Centre for Advancing Journalism at the University of Melbourne and that of Women in Media indicates these norms are rampant in the media industry. Men almost exclusively own, run, and give voice to the industry. Murdoch’s News Corp, Fairfax, and APN own 92% of print media in Australia, with women owners being only 15%.
Men run nearly all of it, with only 17% of executives female, and new research shows women to be similarly underrepresented as editors (30.8%), specialist reporters (9.6%-30.2%), as experts (24.6%) and as authoritative sources (26.0%). Only 27% of AM and FM radio breakfast and drive programming hosts are female.
The rate of sexual harassment of women in media (48%) is more than twice that of other workplaces (22%), and far exceeds that of the rightly criticised rates in the Australian Defence Force, at 25% (according to the Human Rights Commission), and Victoria Police at 40%, yet has not been reported widely.
Up until now, the male-centric culture of media made it a non-story.
Will we see long overdue change?
Are we seeing a change now “The Blokes” have broken ranks with Don Burke? Is public discourse about to change? Has social media enabled a coalescence of power from LGBT people and people of colour, to join with outpouring from women who’ve been bullied, excluded, harassed and assaulted, to reach a tipping point for the wave of change?
I think not yet.
I think The Blokes who sacked predatory men in the US did it because women, LGBT and people of colour now have economic power and will use it. I think The Blokes who turned on Burke did it to protect themselves.
They were there; they oversaw the reign of terror and did nothing; now that the women and their coworkers are testifying, the (Old) Blokes are running for their lives and distancing themselves from every aspect of this (now) “horrible, horrible man”. Their successors are perpetuating the same workplace cultural norms that we know lead to violence against women.
When a Trump becomes a Macron, we could be more confident. The French president this week swore “it is essential that shame changes camp”, and he is putting his money where his mouth is, with a 2018 draft law to criminalise street harassment, and a massive public education program about sexism and changes to police and courts to help victims.
In the meantime, as Lindy West of the New York Times writes:
… not only are women expected to weather sexual violence, intimate partner violence, workplace discrimination, institutional subordination, the expectation of free domestic labour, the blame for our own victimisation, and all the subtler, invisible cuts that undermine us daily, we are not even allowed to be angry about it.
We women are angry. Our anger has led to finding ways, around the rule of men in the newsroom, through social media and each other, to document the scope of the crimes against us.
The question is whether our anger, and collaboration with powerful men, will be enough to turn that teetering crest into a massive, roaring wave of change.
Allegations that Don Burke indecently assaulted and bullied staff during his time hosting Burke’s Backyard were heinous enough. But in an interview with A Current Affair last night, he created another victim: the autism community.
In the interview, Burke claimed that he has Asperger’s syndrome:
I haven’t been medically diagnosed but I’ve worked it out, what it is, and it’s a terrible failing.
I have difficulty looking anyone in the eye. I can look in the lense, but I have real difficulty looking anyone in the eye … it’s a typical thing. And I miss all their body language and often the subtle signs that people give to you like, ‘Back off, that’s enough’, I don’t see that.
I suffer from a terrible problem with that, of not seeing … and no-one can understand how you can’t see it. But you don’t.
In examining Burke’s comments, it’s helpful to separate “excuse” from “explanation”. It’s clear there is no excuse for humiliation, bullying and harassment. Nevertheless, reasonable explanations can still underlie inexcusable behaviour.
Burke sought to use Asperger’s syndrome as that explanation. Whether or not Burke would meet criteria for Asperger’s syndrome is not the issue. The problem is that the statements he made about Asperger’s syndrome are utterly false and have an impact far beyond his own circumstance.
Remind me, what is Asperger’s syndrome?
Asperger’s syndrome is part of the autism spectrum, and is characterised by difficulties with social interaction and communication.
Autism spectrum conditions are diagnosed by a team of clinical experts, often including a specially trained medical doctor, a psychologist and a speech pathologist. While autism is a heritable condition (it “runs” in families), we currently don’t know enough about the genetic factors underlying the condition and so we diagnose based on observable behaviours.
A defining characteristic of autism (and Asperger’s syndrome) is differences in social behaviours, such as difficulties initiating or maintaining social interaction with others. However, these social difficulties bear no relevance to a lack of empathy for others, which, of course, underlies bullying and harassing behaviour.
Empathy comes in two forms – cognitive empathy (ability to recognise others’ emotions), and emotional empathy (ability to feel others’ emotions once that emotion has been recognised). There is strong research evidence that some individuals with autism may have challenges with cognitive empathy, but no evidence for difficulties with emotional empathy.
In essence, once there is understanding of what a person is feeling, people on the autism spectrum are often intensely empathetic.
More likely to be bullied than a bully
While the behaviours that characterise autism can create challenges in day-to-day life, there is no link between autism and the perpetration of bullying and harassment. Indeed, dozens of scientific studies have investigated this, and all evidence indicates that people on the autism spectrum are far more likely to be the victims of these behaviours than the other way around.
I think about the young man with Asperger’s syndrome, who has fostered enormous courage to attend and enjoy school, and now has another target placed on his back.
I think about parents of newly diagnosed children, who are met with yet another jarring myth to swirl around their tired and worried minds. I think about how this may affect their view of the years that lie ahead of them. These years will come with great challenges, but also the greatest of joys.
I think about employers, who are just starting to understand the vast talents and economic benefits people on the autism spectrum bring to their workplace, and how even the smallest seeds of doubt can be fertilised by the public airing of patently false statements.
I think about all of these people – the wonderful autism community – and how they would feel in being used as a punching bag yet again. The autism community frequently takes punches from media and public figures in an attempt to excuse or explain human behaviour.
Australia would do very well to not simply ignore Don Burke’s comments, but instead use the anger they generate to continue the path of cherishing and valuing the diversity that the autism community provides our society.