It's high time John Pesutto apologised to Moira Deeming

It's high time John Pesutto apologised to Moira Deeming

By Stephanie Bastiaan

Deeming vs Pesutto moves closer to trial as the parties file affidavits in the Federal Court this week. These documents are expected to include the evidence Victorian Liberal Leader John Pesutto will rely on to show Liberal MP Moira Deeming associated with rally organisers and speakers with known links and associations with Neo-Nazi, white supremacist and other extremist groups at the Let Women Speak rally in Melbourne last year.

"It has never been my intention to convey that I believed Ms Keen and Ms Jones to be Neo-Nazis, or that they were members of Neo-Nazi groups. As far as my comments may have been misunderstood as conveying that I believed this to be the case, I apologise for any hurt, distress or harm that has occurred."John Pesutto 17 May 2024

Two weeks ago Pesutto issued an apology to Kellie-Jay Keen and Angela Jones, settling two of the three defamation cases brought against him following the Let Women Speak Rally. 

In his apology, Pesutto described Jones and Keen as "passionate women's rights activists with long histories of advocacy in Australia and internationally" and also stated that "genuine community concerns regarding women's safety and access to single-sex spaces, services and sport warrant meaningful public discussion."

Such a stark contrast to the repeated claims he made last year while justifying his motion to expel Deeming over her association with them. However, the apology, titled ‘Statement from the Leader of the Opposition’ appears to have stopped short of clearing Keen of having known associations or sharing platforms with individuals who hold Neo-Nazi and other extremist views.

Jones, in her acknowledgement of the apology on X, said she hoped Australia was "entering a political climate where women can advocate for the reinstatement of our sex-based human rights, and sex-specific safeguarding, equitably and without misrepresentation or intimidation." Keen shared these sentiments in a very gracious acceptance speech on X, describing Pesutto's apology as a 'step forward' for women being able to speak about their sex-based rights. 

Although the apology falls short, one may argue that it is a reasonable outcome for Keen and Jones, compared to the emotional and financial burden of going to trial.

There was enough in his statement to demonstrate that Pesutto’s character assassination of Keen and Jones was wrong and that he was also consequently wrong about moving a motion to expel Deeming for her association with them. He must now apologise to Deeming and ensure her passage back into the Liberal Party Parliamentary Room.  

After all, this saga is a mess of Pesutto's making. His actions created the media furore, bringing the Liberal Party into disrepute.  

Pesutto could have managed this dispute discreetly in-house. He could have conveyed his concerns to the party room, circulated his evidence and reached a decision without bringing the Liberal Party into disrepute. Instead, the day after the Let Women Speak Rally, and only a few short hours after meeting with Deeming to discuss his concerns, he issued a media release announcing a motion to expel her in what was a case of political opportunism. 

Pesutto then commenced a media circuit over the week leading up to the vote with wild assertions about Deeming’s associates at the rally, primarily sourced from Wikipedia. All this time, Deeming said nothing. 

During the meeting to expel Deeming, reluctant to deal with the fallout of a PR disaster following the revelations that Deeming’s advocacy for women's sex-based rights stemmed from her experience of sexual assault as a child, Pesutto's allies, rather than go to a vote, brokered a deal to save face which included a nine-month suspension and according to the original minutes, included a media statement to "make it clear that no one was accusing Moira of being a Nazi or Nazi sympathiser." 

It appears Pesutto then refused to uphold his side of the agreement to provide the statement, to which Deeming provided Pesutto with a request to either produce the statement, or she would engage lawyers to challenge her suspension and renegotiate the terms of the agreement.

This move was weaponised by Pesutto's allies, who circulated a motion to expel Deeming for 'engaging in conduct that would bring discredit on the Parliamentary Party'. Pesutto's spin doctors fronted the media with lines about Deeming threatening to sue the Party even though she only sought to uphold the agreement. Despite no clear explanation for the basis of the unsigned motion either in writing or to the media, Deeming was expelled. 

The media reports that negotiations between Pesutto and Deeming to settle her defamation case are resting on her readmittance to the Liberal Party Parliamentary Room, which Pesutto says is an outcome he cannot control. However, just like Sam Groth was convinced to fly a 12-hour round trip from his family holiday in Fiji for the first vote, I'm sure if Pesutto's support to lead the Party Room is as strong as he says it is, he could persuade his colleagues that a week-long defamation trial is not in the Liberal Party's interests. After all, he's now admitted he largely got it wrong. 

I won't hold my breath following the embarrassing door-stop interview on the day he published the apology, where he metaphorically held his nose when asked about it and refused to repeat any of his statements. 

Recent polling shows Labor is on the nose as the Victorian economy crumbles under Labor's economic mismanagement. Although polling shows Liberals leading at 37% to Labor's 28%, it's telling that Pesutto's prospects have not improved, with his popularity polling at 26% behind Premier Jacinta Allen's 31%. The fact that Pesutto refuses to hold a concrete position on anything, and incidents such as his recent dummy spit withdrawing his attendance at the multicultural dinner in Victoria with Peter Dutton because he could not speak, have done little to improve his prospects. Indeed, they say more about the pettiness of his nature that landed him being sued by three women he allegedly defamed.  

Pesutto's leadership, already teetering on the edge of a cliff, is now only holding on by a thread. Ambitious future leaders are waiting in the wings, crunching numbers. 

It's only a matter of time. 

No Party has done more to erode the rights of women in favour of gender ideology than the Labor Party with the support of the Greens. Victorian women and children deserve better. 

However, the Liberals have no prospect of being considered a viable alternative until they have a leader willing to lead in the best interests of the people of Victoria, rather than their own.

Stephanie Bastiaan is a Research Fellow with Women's Forum Australia.

Women’s Forum Australia is an independent think tank that undertakes research, education and public policy advocacy on issues affecting women and girls, with a particular focus on addressing behaviours and practices that are harmful and abusive to them. We are a non-partisan, non-religious, tax-deductible charity. We do not receive any government funding and rely solely on donations to make an impact. Support our work today.

I’ll stand with women ▷