Top Liberal apologises for sex assault joke

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    The vice-president of the Liberal Party shocked colleagues when she made a joke about sexual assault in a meeting about a new code of conduct for the party’s NSW branch. Teena McQueen said she regretted making the joke and that she had asked for forgiveness. “I said that young women will reach an age, like my age, when they no longer have to worry about being sexually assaulted. Is that insensitive? At the time, I didn’t think so, but on reflection, I understand,” she said.

    “I do now realize that women can be sexually assaulted at any age. It’s been an educational experience for me.” Two people present at the February 26 meeting independently confirmed a report that Ms. McQueen said the words: “I would kill to be sexually harassed at the moment.” Ms. McQueen said those weren’t her exact words.

    “But certainly I made the reference, I do not deny that. And I have apologized,” she said. One of the people in the room said there was shock and horror at Ms. McQueen’s attempt at humor. “I can tell you everyone there was horrified, and many of us made complaints as well,” the person said.

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    “It’s not something that’s representative of the people there.” The person said the meeting disintegrated after the comment. The Liberal Party’s NSW State Executive did end up voting through the new code of conduct, which was announced on March 2 and establishes procedures to deal with complaints by party members.

    Ms. McQueen said the backlash to her comment made her realize that times have changed, and the kind of humor she said would have been acceptable in the past is no longer considered OK. “I sort of miss the era I grew up in, where you could make the odd joke, especially among friends and colleagues, and it would be seen as an off-the-cuff smartass remark,” she said. “I used to have a good sense of humor.”

    Ms. McQueen also made another comment that caused outrage at the meeting. According to people in the room, she said women shouldn’t drink at work, which many took to reference Brittany Higgins, the woman who alleges she was raped in Parliament House. But Ms. McQueen, a lifelong non-drinker, vehemently denied she was referencing Ms. Higgins.

    “The name Brittany wasn’t even mentioned; that is a ridiculous accusation. I was saying I think alcohol should be addressed,” she said. “I’m raising it, and I’ll have to cop the heat, but hopefully, I’ll shine a light on the issue that excessive use of alcohol, especially in a working environment, has to be looked at.”

    Ms. McQueen said she had sympathy for sexual assault survivors and that she, too, had been forced to fight off unwanted advances in her youth. She said an incident when she was 18 when she was distraught over a break-up, and a female friend groped her and tried to take advantage of her left deep psychological marks. “It was horrible, and to this day, I still have trust issues because of it,” she said.

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