Under her leadership, NSW Labor MP Trish Doyle used parliamentary privilege to outline rape allegations made by a sex worker against a rival MP in a seat with razor-thin margins, and what has it delivered?
A by-election result so poor, her numbers to hold leadership collapsed, her ministry refused to stay on with her, and the 7 per cent swing against Labor in the Upper Hunter reverberated from Macquarie St to Capital Hill where federal Labor is openly at war.
The episode again raises the question of politicians ignoring natural justice and using the legal immunity they enjoy in parliament to air untested allegations about their opponents. Members of Parliament can’t be sued or prosecuted for anything they say in a debate under parliamentary privilege – that’s why we have a full roster of speakers to ensure this total freedom of speech is exercised responsibly.
This is why Ms Doyle’s decision to air rape allegations made against a political rival in parliament is problematic.
With the support of Ms McKay she chose a politically expedient shortcut rather than leaving it to the police to investigate the allegations.
Those attacked under parliamentary privilege never get a fair go – often not even a reply.
Ms Doyle did not name the alleged rapist in parliament but identified him as a government MP.
Former Nationals Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen has never been charged but Ms Doyle, acting as a semi-judicial oracle, omitted some relevant facts.
Ms Doyle did not tell parliament that the sex worker met Mr Johnsen for paid sex on two subsequent occasions following the alleged assault. This includes inviting him to her own home where her daughter slept in another room, for paid sex work. She also continued to send him naked photographs weeks afterwards. Bank statements show that over two weeks Mr Johnsen transferred into her account $2000 in $500 sums for car repairs and another $800 in cash for sex. She told him she was having car trouble and could not travel to see him because she couldn’t afford to get her car fixed. It was two days after the first $500 transfer they met for the first time, at Yellow Rock, for oral sex.
Ms Doyle claimed under privilege that after consensual oral sex he moved behind her, raped her and did not pay her. Mr Johnsen denies this. He says that before he penetrated her, they both agreed on a further $200 cash. The day after the alleged rape, she requested more money for car repairs and he sent $500. Eight days after the alleged rape, she invited him inside her home and performed oral sex on him. This detail was not included in Ms Doyle’s speech to parliament or subsequent reports by the ABC. Nine days following the alleged rape, she requested more car money and he transferred $500. Ten days post-assault, she texted a topless picture of herself to him, with a kiss emoji and “xx”. Nearly two weeks later, she had consensual paid sex with him again, at Lennox Bridge, where the next day he transferred another $500 for her car. After he ceased communicating with her, a month after texting him topless pictures, the sex worker told her local member, Ms Doyle, that Mr Johnsen had raped her on that first meeting at Yellow Rock.
Both Ms Doyle and Ms McKay encouraged her to go to the police.
It would be nearly another year before she did, with Ms Doyle telling parliament the sex worker told her she did not trust the legal system.
Hours after Ms Doyle made the allegations in the chamber, the ABC went to air with interviews from the sex worker. She told ABC one of the reasons she – a fierce pro-abortionist – decided to go public was Mr Johnsen – an equally fierce pro-life – made a controversial comparison between Black Lives Matter and abortion on social media.
Despite the sex scandal, on the hustings last weekend only one in five people voted Labor.
The Nationals held on to the seat – and on Friday Ms McKay resigned.
Had Ms McKay urged Ms Doyle to exercise caution in her judgment, and held the state government to account on a host of issues she ignored, she would still have a shot at being premier in 2023.
If politicians continue to abuse parliamentary privilege, they should lose it.