David O’Byrne’s parents were both cleaners. He put himself through university, then spent decades as a trade unionist before he was preselected by Labor for Franklin in 2009. Having made a success of himself, O’Byrne paid it forward by heading a not-for-profit that supports disadvantaged communities.
He is white, middle-aged, and married with two daughters.
In June 2021 O’Byrne was elected to lead the Tasmanian Labor Party, you would think the culmination of his career, with his eye on the Premiership. One month later, he was forced to step down after former union employee Rachel Midson accused him of sending suggestive text messages and twice kissing her in 2007.
2007 — fifteen years ago.
Midson’s explanation for not coming forward sooner? She was “worried she would not be believed“. Following the examples of Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame, she felt “emboldened to stand up” — but she also admits being triggered at seeing O’Byrne get the top job.
Rachel Midson coincidentally happens to be the wife of Kevin Midson, right faction convenor and political opponent of David O’Byrne. It is no secret that Tasmania’s Labor factions are at war. But her husband’s political affiliations, assures Midson, had nothing to do with it.
Rachel Midson coincidentally happens to be the sister of Independent MHA Kristie Johnston, who wasted no time in smearing O’Byrne with further allegations under parliamentary privilege. But her sister’s political ambitions, assuredly, also had nothing to do with it.
O’Byrne spoke to media outside Parliament, stating he thought Midson had consented at the time. “This matter has caused me to reflect deeply on the nature of consent, and I’ve come to appreciate why the person concerned says our interactions were not consensual,” he said.
Oh, I’m sure David O’Byrne now understands.
He understands that consent can be revoked fifteen years after the act and used against you by a ruthless factional apparatchik. If David O’Byrne though he understood politics before, he’s had a masterclass in it now.
O’Byrne submitted himself to an independent inquiry. The investigator, Barbara Deegan, had never met O’Byrne and had no political affiliation with Labor. Her completely objective independent inquiry into the scandal found O’Byrne not guilty of sexual harrassment.
So you’d expect the headlines to read that David O’Byrne has been restored to his position? No, instead the new ALP boss Rebecca White demanded his resignation. This is where I stop pretending that any of this bullshit is alright.
And it’s not just me.
Offering a clear snap-shot of the bullshittery at work, Labor legislative council member Dr Bastian Seidel will quit in December. “I can’t work with people who constantly leak information to the media out of pure selfishness. I don’t enjoy political infighting. It is sad and depressing and too often I felt like I was a disposable pawn in someone else’s stupid game.“
Did I just accidentally post a pic of Paul Lennon? Oops!
Politics aside, stupid games, not genuine grievances, is what undermine #MeToo and Grace Tame’s efforts, and everything else about this rolling shitfest. A kiss and smutty emoji didn’t ruin Rachel Midson’s life, but political opportunism ruined O’Byrne’s.
Tasmanian Greens leader Cassy O’Connor’s added this smug warning: “Fellas, the gig is up. There’s a salient message here for men in public life — your past will catch up with you, it will, times have changed [and] we’re not putting up with it anymore,” she said.
O’Connor is right. The salient message is: Every successful man in Western society should look back over his shoulder and reassess every interaction he’s ever had with a female co-worker who might be keeping her powder dry for that rainy $$$ day.
Forewarned is forearmed.
A quarter of a century ago, my boss invited me to go for a midnight stroll. The veteran of three failed marriages, Charlie gave me advice which would fail the #GraceTame test now, which was that I should avoid “cash, bash and gash” at all cost.
Charlie (1999) used a metaphor I’ve never forgotten: “Women in the job are like coral snakes, mate. Beautiful to look at, but deadly to touch.” I’ve witnessed several colleagues badly bitten over the years, and their examples left an indelible mark.
Deadly to touch.
But this sordid chapter isn’t over. Next we’ll see women sacked for chancy Fakebook likes they added 20 years ago. Somebody you once trusted will use it against you, jealous of your achievements, filled with glee at the chance to bring you down. Snakes come in all shapes and colours, and genders.
I doubt there’s a woman alive who doesn’t deeply regret something she’s said, if not done. We all live in glass houses, and any one of us can pick up stones.