Former NSW Labor leader Luke Foley is under growing pressure to quit Parliament over allegations he drunkenly groped a female journalist despite insisting on his innocence, as colleagues seek the contain the damage.
Party officials have referred Mr Foley to the party’s candidate selection committee to review his suitability to re-contest his seat at the March state election.
NSW deputy leader Michael Daley, who declared his intention to run for the leadership on Friday morning, said he was “very unhappy” over the tone of Mr Foley’s resignation press conference on Thursday evening and intention to file defamation action against the reporter who made the allegations, Ashleigh Raper, and her employer the ABC.
Mr Daley said he believed Ms Raper’s account, saying she had acted bravely coming forward after months of innuendo.
‘Very unhappy’: Daley unimpressed with Foley
“Luke needs to really carefully consider that legal action. In my view that would be a bad thing for everyone concerned,” he told Sky News.
“He has the right to stay in the parliament till March. Whether he stays there as a Labor Party member or not is a different matter.
“Frankly if I’m the leader of the Labor Party, I don’t want him sitting in our ranks.”
While in Labor heartland in Sydney’s western suburbs, Mr Foley holds Auburn by just 5.93 per cent. Despite Labor’s vote recovering statewide after its 2011 electoral drubbing, Mr Foley actually suffered a small swing against him when he entered the lower house in 2015.
Almost 27 per cent of Auburn’s population is Muslim, according to 2016 census, with the seat being home to the landmark Gallipoli mosque. There is also a significant Chinese population – 18 per cent – in the seat.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian stood by her Corrective Services Minister David Elliott, who raised the allegations against Mr Foley under the cover of parliamentary privilege, despite calls he should resign for making the matter public despite Ms Raper’s wishes it be kept private.
“It is disappointing that she had control of the issue taken away from her,” Ms Berejiklian said.
In a statement issued on Thursday, Ms Raper said Mr Foley had approached her at a bar following the NSW Parliamentary Press Gallery’s Christmas drinks in 2016. She alleged Mr Foley slipped his hand through a gap in the back of her dress and inside her underpants, resting his hand on her buttocks.
Ms Raper did not make a formal complaint because of concerns for the impact on her career, only raising the matter with ABC management earlier this year.
The allegation against Mr Foley has been an open secret in NSW politics for some months, but Mr Foley has maintained it was false and when Mr Elliott raised it last month in Parliament, accused him of spreading a smear.
However, Ms Raper said Mr Foley apologised to her for being a “drunk idiot” on Sunday during a 19 minute phone call and told her he intended to resign. However, Mr Foley later told her he would not quit after receiving legal advice.
That prompted Ms Raper to out herself as the alleged victim on Thursday.
Mr Daley, Labor’s planning spokesman, is the only declared candidate for the party leadership, although water spokesman Chris Minns is said to be considering throwing his hat in the ring for Saturday’s caucus meeting.
Mr Daley entered Parliament in 2005, replacing Bob Carr upon the then premier’s retirement from state politics. He was police and finance minister for 18 months before Labor’s defeat in 2011, avoiding the scandals that beset other frontbenchers.