Setting the record straight

The first missive from Sally McManus was brief.

Far more so than the rambling speech given by union leader John Setka, the cause of such controversy this week.

“I have arrived back in the country today,” McManus said on Wednesday, “and have consulted with union leaders who are concerned by Mr Setka’s words and actions, which are not compatible with our values, and have impacted on our movement.”

So veiled in its construction, the statement obscured the deeper issue with Setka.

And in pushing to expel the union boss from the Labor Party, Anthony Albanese skirted the detail entirely.

Instead, the newly elected Labor leader zeroed in on comments Setka is said to have made about anti-domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty – that her advocacy work has stripped men of their rights.

“John Setka does not belong in our party,” Albanese said, “because of the views that he holds.”

It was a strong stance, no doubt, one that Bill Shorten – and many of his Labor predecessors – would not have taken. And it will likely come at a political cost for Albanese, so split is the union movement over Setka’s fall.

But if his views on Rosie Batty make John Setka unacceptable for Labor Party membership, surely his intention to plead guilty to charges of harassing a woman should also render him unfit?

On Thursday, Sally McManus finally took the stand so many have been afraid to.

“If any of these allegations are correct, John Setka must resign,” she said. “There is no place for perpetrators of domestic violence in leadership positions in our movement.’’

Albanese hasn’t spoken at all of these charges since Setka’s plan to plead was made public three weeks ago.

In fact, he went so far as to say, “I want to make it clear that this decision to move his expulsion does not relate to any matter that is currently before the courts.”

Setka’s case has long been in the public view. Per The Age:

“Police analysis of Mr Setka’s phone activity revealed that on a single evening last October, he called the woman 25 times and sent her 45 text messages, calling her a ‘weak fucken piece of shit’ and a ‘treacherous Aussie fucken cunt’ and a ‘fucken dog’.”

Albanese’s unwillingness to face the dark truth here – to name it and draw a line – undermines the virtue of his moves against Setka.

A zero-tolerance policy to violence against women applied unequally is no policy at all.

It is a “male champion of change” who doesn’t take seriously allegations of sexual harassment levelled in his own company. A white ribbon worn proudly by a footballer accused of glassing his girlfriend in the face.

It is nothing but the appearance of progressivity – a dangerous chimera.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 15, 2019 as "Setting the record straight".

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