Australia’s Weinstein Moment Is Here, And There’s So Much More To Come

"I don't know if anyone's going to be left. It's going to be scary."

Don Burke

Welcome to your new week, Australia! It’s going to be a rough one. The daily wave of accusations of high-profile sexual misconduct has just hit our shores hard.

After nearly two months of reports on Weinstein, Spacey, C.K., Tambor, Ratner and more, we now have a name that’s particularly close to home: Burke. A groundbreaking Fairfax/ABC investigation has revealed allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Australian TV legend Don Burke.

After speaking to more than 50 sources who have worked with or known the TV presenter over the past two decades, investigative reporter Kate McClymont has published accusations calling him a “psychotic bully” and “sexual predator”.

Burke has denied the claims and lawyered up, but the floodgates are open. The ABC’s 7.30 is airing a special report featuring his accusers tonight. Women in the entertainment industry are boosting the report on social media and sharing their own insights about the sexist culture at large. More names have been promised to us. This is just the beginning.

An Ongoing Investigation

Though this initial report comes from McClymont, it’s part of a growing push to hold accused sexual harassers in Australian media to account. Two weeks after the Harvey Weinstein scandal started to unfold, journalist Tracey Spicer announced she was investigating “two long-term offenders” and things have snowballed from there. Spicer asked people to come forward with their stories and was absolutely inundated. She’s since been approached by more than 400 sources, and has identified Burke as “a name that kept popping up again and again”.

Spicer today told The Australian she’s received allegations against 65 figures. The offences vary from verbal harassment to sexual assault. The accused figures are believed to span all types of media and entertainment in Australia.

Naturally, this type of thing takes a lot of work — particularly in regards to legal issues. When people make allegations of this nature, they have to be ready for investigation from police; and when publications print them, they’re open to defamation lawsuits. Australia’s defamation laws are notoriously tough — particularly in comparison to somewhere like the US — and Burke has unsurprisingly already sought counsel.

Spicer has also been outspoken about the difficulty of getting people on the record. Though the ongoing “whisper network” is getting louder, many of those within it feel they can’t speak out due to personal or professional self-preservation. This is often the case for survivors of assault or harassment (who have no obligation to subject themselves to this kind of media attention), but also for witnesses within workplaces who fear reprisal.

One woman to recently speak up about her experiences is Sarah Monahan. Monahan was sexually abused as a child on the set of Hey Dad!. Her abuser (and on-screen father) Robert Hughes was convicted of 10 charges of child sex offences in 2014 and lost an appeal for a retrial earlier this year. Speaking generally of misconduct in the Australian entertainment industry, Monahan has warned “the floodgates are definitely about to open”.

“Some of these people have been in television for like 40 years and they are going to be outed,” she told The Daily Telegraph. They are hosts of TV shows, hosts of award shows, Logie Award winners, people who are massive household names that everyone will instantly recognise and who people love that will be named and shamed.”

“I don’t know if anyone’s going to be left. It’s going to be scary.”

Monahan also appeared on Studio 10 last week to speak of a reckoning that’s coming for high-profile Australian abusers.

“Seven years ago when I came out, what I wanted was for everyone to feel that they could speak,” she said. “Finally, seven years later, we’re at this point where everyone’s talking and I think it’s great. I’m actually kind of excited; it’s like ‘who’s going to be next?'”

Monahan is now working closely with Spicer, and has reportedly played a role in one person filing a police report. “There’s going to be a lot a lot of names… I don’t know if anyone’s going to be left. It’s going to be scary.”

This isn’t the last we’ve seen from these two.

Is This Our Weinstein Moment?

There are two sources in McClymont’s report who namecheck Harvey Weinstein in their discussion of Don Burke, and it’s proved to be a point of contention. Former chief executive of Nine, David Leckie, said: “I’ve been trying to think of Harvey Weinstein-type people [in Australia] and the only one I can ever come up with is Burke.” An unnamed former Nine exec added, “If Harvey Weinstein’s been outed, Don needs to be outed.”

In response, Don Burke clarified he “loathes the reported behaviour of Mr Weinstein” and resents the comparison. “The bitter irony is that I have had a life-long opposition to sexism and misogyny,” he added.

In fairness, McClymont clarified that, “Unlike Weinstein, Burke is not accused of rape”. She also added that “the more than 50 people interviewed during this investigation have made serious allegations about Burke’s actions.”

This is a familiar fight; one that we’ve also seen during recent debate in the US. Is it fair to lump Louis C.K. into the Weinstein basket, considering he’s not accused of physically assaulting women? What about Jeffrey Tambor’s alleged unwanted advances on women in the workplace? As he quit his hit show Transparent, he claimed “the politicised atmosphere seems to have afflicted our set”. At this point, Weinstein isn’t so much a man, but a movement — and people who are on the wrong side of it are crying foul about being painted with the same brush as an accused rapist.

That’s a fair point, but it’s also reductive. To speak of a Weinstein figure or moment or culture, isn’t to say that everyone mentioned is akin to a rapist; it’s to acknowledge the many ways rape culture in all its forms (a term that’s divisive in itself) can affect people’s personal and professional lives. A Weinstein moment isn’t just about women coming forward with shocking allegations, it’s about them actually being heard.

As Kate McClymont put it on 3AW this morning, “I think the tide is turning and people are more willing to speak out … Already people have been contacting me. I think it’s going to be a long day.”

Regardless of what happens with the accusations against Don Burke, this is undoubtedly Australia’s moment. Women’s stories are on the front page of the paper, award-winning journos are hot on people’s tails, and bad men (no matter what their exact crimes) should feel the spray of that righteous wave.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit an emergency, call 000.

Men can access anonymous confidential telephone counselling to help to stop using violent and controlling behaviour through the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491.

Meg Watson is Junkee’s Editor. She tweets @msmegwatson.