Another week, another assassination of a Labor politician. No, I’m not talking about a real assassination – like the UK Labour MP Jo Cox, who was shot and stabbed by a Britain First constituent in 2016 – but the political assassination of Emma Husar, the Labor MP for the western Sydney electorate of Lindsay.
Ever since BuzzFeed published a series of articles announcing an ‘investigation’ and alleging ‘misconduct’ – littered with a wide range of sexualised references, such as “Basic Instinct”, “having sex”, “sexualised behaviour”, “zip up her dress”, as well as an ecstatic photograph of Husar in Parliament with her eyes closed, suggestive of cunnilingus under the desk – there has been a continuous media frenzy and gang attack on Husar, resulting in a series of death threats made against her, and she has had to take leave from her position.
Yes, a great day for the progress of women in federal Parliament.
It’s essential to note within the three articles published by BuzzFeed, there has been no analysis, and no background to what actually might be the developing story here – hypothetical or otherwise. For most people in the know, what has been alleged against Husar and the way it has been released has the fingerprints of the NSW Labor Right all over it and BuzzFeed has shown itself to be an amateur outfit for not picking up on this.
For those unfamiliar with BuzzFeed, it’s the political version of New Idea – and its business model is based on cultural gossip and click-bait, sprinkled with some political news of the day. Its Australian headquarters are housed in a more salubrious part of the Sydney CBD, staffed by young middle-class privileged white kids and, to work there, you need a bit of cultural cache – know how to say the right words, know the right people, are ‘in’ on the latest cool things in the world – and have more attitude than sense.
Some are straight from student university politics, others have come via the ABC’s youth station, Triple J, and the site contains a small number of national political news stories interspersed with articles such as: ‘26 Hilarious Tweets From This Week All By Women’; ‘21 Pictures That Prove Birds Are Just Like Us’; ‘6 People Who Shouldn’t Be Allowed Anywhere Near Ice Cream’; ‘Respond To These Texts And We’ll Reveal A Truth About You And Your BFF’, as well as Khloé Kardashian explaining why her lips and body are looking bigger.
If you’re getting the feeling I’m trying to downplay the significance of BuzzFeed, you are absolutely correct. It’s about the largest piece of digital garbage to be found on the internet. Sure, it’s a successful online business model, but if you wanted some political news with stature and authority, best to look elsewhere.
Part of me thinks that if a website like BuzzFeed is what’s needed to get the twenty-somethings of today into current affairs and politics, well that’s just the way it has to be. They’ll grow out of it. But the more sensible part me is bemused by what is pushed forward as political news and the way it’s being presented by BuzzFeed, especially by the reporter of the Husar allegations, Alice Workman.
The articles are replete with smutty allegations and innuendo about Husar that are yet to be proven. Compare BuzzFeed’s reporting of Barnaby Joyce’s affairs during the 2017 New England byelection – zilch – where many stories about his predatory sexual behaviour were broken by small independent news sites such as Independent Australia and True Crime News Weekly. We can see that BuzzFeed is no different to the behaviours of other mainsteam media, which refused to publish any of this information about Joyce, in the belief they ‘didn’t have the level of proof to publish’.
So if the ‘level of proof to publish’ didn’t exist for Joyce, why was this concept pushed aside when it came to Husar? Why was fair reporting offered in one case, but not the other? Let’s analyse the first story published by BuzzFeed.
The key words used here are “allegations”, “investigated”, “misconduct”, “bullying” (an MP who is a bully? Yo, cool dudes, tell me something else I didn’t already know). And the reported allegations against Husar are she:
- required “staff to babysit her children during and outside work hours”;
- instructed her staff to “walk her dog”, adding they were also required to “clean up its faeces”;
- requested a “staff member who performs household and nannying duties”;
- advertised for a staffer where the tasks listed for the role included “running errands” and “supporting various personal, professional and family obligations”.
Other unnamed sources are quoted as saying working with Husar is “hell”; another staffer alleged “people are just afraid to go into work,” and former staff member alleges Husar verbally abused staff, calling them “cunts” and “fuckwits”.
And the best so far: Husar allegedly told a male worker to wash her dishes so he could learn about “white male privilege”.
Again, we are given no context – just the innuendo that Husar is behaving badly and, the logical outcome of this, the young white guy must be alright.
But what if that male worker, for example, comes from an exclusive private school, where he’s had everything done for him in life, and sees that doing the small errands around the office is beneath him – someone has to do the dishes, after all, and are we really expecting MPs with their busy lives to do this?
I’d be embarrassed to lodge this issue as a complaint. Some advice to that young male staffer: Just do the dishes, it will be good for the soul.
Or what if the male worker, for example, is the son of a powerful former MP, who actually wants to occupy the seat Husar is holding?
Or a sexist young upstart that resents being told by a woman what do to in an office environment? What better way to remove a woman in politics than provide all the political dirt to a dirt rag like BuzzFeed, knowing that the information will neatly dovetail into the story angles promoted by News Limited and destroy that person’s career, conveniently causing that seat to become vacant?
There are just so many issues within the published story that don’t make very much sense – unless we take into account the involvement of the NSW Labor Right. The ability and preference for the NSW Labor Right to share in the scraps of defeat can never be underestimated. As long as they maintain their high level of control and influence, they will do anything to exert and maintain that control, even if it means ousting a sitting Labor MP and causing the loss of the seat to the Liberal Party.
So, who is Emma Husar? She has only been a member of the Labor Party since 2013 and we know she was an adviser to Labor MP Ed Husic between 2015–16, has worked as a fundraising and events manager, and has a primary education teaching degree. She is a single mother now and has three children aged between 10–16 and, based on the reports of the history of domestic violence in the home, is likely to have been the full-time carer of her children.
She hasn’t been a member of the Labor Party for very long. Could there be a factional issue at play here? Was there a preselection battle from the 2016 federal election that has caused this factional issue? That’s a fascinating angle that BuzzFeed totally ignores.
How does Husar’s office management compare with other political offices, such as the Australian Greens, or the Liberal Party? The public might be interested in some of these issues, especially with the recent harassment allegations made against NSW Greens MP, Jeremy Buckingham. A ‘compare-and-contrast’ analysis, similar to what we might see in the HSC English exam, might useful to the public, but that requires a little bit more work and wearing out the shoe leather to find the information, and this seems to be outside the purview of an outfit like BuzzFeed.
Of course, all workplaces should be respectful and professional, and no one should walk into any office and be called a “cunt” or a “fuckwit”. It shouldn’t be this way, but political offices run to different rules. And, just like Otto von Bismark’s observation that the making of laws is like the making of sausages and is not a pretty sight, political offices are usually not convivial locations and the public would be frightened if they knew everything that was going in every politician’s office. The office of Senator Michaelia Cash, for example.
First of all, we need to look at the behaviour of politicians. Generally, they are a mixture of sociopaths, narcissists, and outright nutcases – having your face plastered all over the electorate and appearing in the media on a daily basis interferes with the human psyche.
Politicians, just like rock stars, are powerful people, crave the attention, and every political insider wants to be their friend. But, as former Prime Minister Paul Keating said, if you want a friend in politics, buy a dog. And like many rock stars, politicians are generally not very nice people.
If staffers are expecting to work in a friendly environment where the MP boss is going to be the life of the party and be everyone’s best friend, well, it’s not like living in a West Wing fantasy. That’s just not going to happen.
When I worked on a state election campaign in 1995, a candidate threw a plate towards me, but the corner of the computer screen got in the way and the plate smashed onto my work desk. The plate wasn’t aimed at me, but the candidate had just found out his 80,000 how-to-vote leaflets has been printed incorrectly, it was the Tuesday night before election day, and they had to be reprinted. The plate was the closest object that he could pick up and throw.
I cleaned up my desk, we called upon a few favours from a printer, the artwork was corrected, and the leaflets were printed in time for delivery to the booths early on Saturday morning, even if some of the printing was a bit shoddy and smudged. But, importantly, the crucial seat was retained, and a slender majority for the party was achieved.
The point is, political offices and affiliated bodies are a hot-bed of very long hours, anger, stress, tears, problem-solving for problems that can’t always be solved and, unlike West Wing, issues can’t be fixed within a neat 40-minute timeframe. And they’re not for the weak-kneed or faint-hearted. A few centimetres on either side back in 1995, and I’d be wearing a permanent plate-smile for the rest of my life. But that was 1995; should 2018 be different for political operatives and staffers?
Yes, they should be different now, but they’re not. This is not to excuse any allegations – if they are proven – but that’s what they are at this stage: allegations. And the veracity of the allegations and the motivations behind them also need to be questioned.
Should the reporter, Alice Workman, have published the allegations? Yes, of course.
But the way they’ve been published – gratuitous excerpts of sex and smutty innuendo without providing any political context for why the allegations have appeared; no background to Labor Party powerplays between its powerful Right faction (which has more features in common with the right wing of the Liberal Party) and an outsider like as Emma Husar; some of the allegations are petty and some are not correct – means the BuzzFeed articles have the same value as any other gossip magazine. And Workman’s reward? A seat at the coffee table of ABC Insiders.
What can we make of Workman’s performance, both as a reporter, and her appearance on Insiders? For a start, her commentary presents only one side of a perspective; it’s a selective regurgitation of the most salacious details of Husar’s alleged behavior without any analysis, history or background to the story; we hear nothing directly from Emma Husar, and other perspectives presented, such as those from Labor MP, Jason Clare, are frivolously dismissed.
The most salacious allegation that Husar ‘flashed herself’ in Clare’s office in a ‘Basic Instinct’ moment has been totally refuted by Clare, who said that the allegations are “categorically untrue”. Workman’s response was “well, that’s not true [Clare’s statement] … the staff member who made those allegations maintains that it did happen… he stands by what he told the investigation”. This is quite a peculiar comment: Workman is taking sides – a fatal flaw for a reporter. Shouldn’t reporters accept what all sides tells them, publish, and let the reader decide?
Good journalism and good reporting requires a range of perspectives and analysis, and leaves enough room for the ordinary and average reader to make up their own mind about the contents of the article. Workman’s articles contain highly selective reporting and seem to be fulfilling a vendetta against Husar which, for a reporter, is a terrible place to be. Why this vendetta is happening would be far more in the public interest, not some unsubstantiated titillating scuttlebutt published in the interests of BuzzFeed’s revenue model and raising Workman’s profile in the media.
But there are many other questions raised by these articles. Why did the Department of Finance decide there was no issue for them to act upon? They are not partisan players and there are independent procedures available to deal with staffing complaints.
Workman claims Husar’s staff didn’t have access to the Fair Work Commission – why does she insist this is the case, when the Commission is available to every worker in Australia with a workplace grievance? Why did Workman claim staff were led to believe their claims would be ‘buried’ by the Labor Party, and who gave the staff this impression?
What are the motivations of the staff, and why would they want the inquiry by the Labor Party into Husar to be made public? In whose interest would this be? Is this revenge and payback?
And what are the motivations of Alice Workman? Sure, a reporter should publish in the public interest any material that becomes available to them, but where was the due diligence, deeper analysis and different perspectives? These articles are some of the poorest ‘investigative’ pieces I’ve come across, and were published with great haste.
What is the relationship between Workman and the source? Workman seemed to have an intimate knowledge of these events – far more than what could be gleaned from leaked reports – describing some events as though she was actually there. Is there something else we need to know about?
Emma Husar has gone into hiding. The allegations made against her may end up being proved correct, and we’ll soon find out, with the Labor Party promising to release their report in the near future. Based on what has been alleged, she may end up either losing her preselection, or losing the seat at the next election. In the political sphere, once allegations are made, they stick, even if they can be disproved. Which is exactly what the NSW Labor Right would have wanted.
Husar has been politically assassinated by a reporter’s ‘coward’s punch’ and the irresponsible journalism that followed. She’s received abusive and offensive emails, had her family house stalked, and received several death threats. We didn’t have Australia’s Jo Cox moment but we’ll never really know how close we came to avoiding it.