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Former Tasmanian opposition leader David O'Byrne emails Labor members to discuss 'difficult period', drawing rebuke from accuser

ABC NEWS logo ABC NEWS 21/10/2021 By investigative reporter Emily Baker
Rachel Midson received the letter Mr O'Byrne sent to all Labor members, which she claimed was an example of "further public victimisation". (ABC News: Luke Bowden) © Provided by ABC NEWS Rachel Midson received the letter Mr O'Byrne sent to all Labor members, which she claimed was an example of "further public victimisation". (ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Former Labor leader David O'Byrne has written to all party members — including the woman who accused him of sexual harassment — to thank his supporters and "acknowledge ... a traumatic and confusing time" in his life.

Mr O'Byrne had laid low since Rachel Midson lodged her complaint about her time working for him at the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union in 2007 and 2008.

Ms Midson, who was 22 at the time, alleged Mr O'Byrne kissed her without her consent and sent sexually suggestive text messages.

Mr O'Byrne apologised for his behaviour and resigned as opposition leader, but later said he was cleared after an investigation found his conduct was "inappropriate and wrong" but did not breach Labor policy.

He left the parliamentary Labor Party at the request of leader Rebecca White in August.

In a letter to members on Wednesday, Mr O'Byrne thanked family, friends and Labor members for their support and reiterated his commitment to staying in parliament as a Labor MP.

"I would like to thank people for their understanding and willingness to listen and accept what is, for all parties, a very sad and unfortunate situation," Mr O'Byrne said.

"Along with the recent death of my dad, this has been a deeply painful and difficult period in my life.

"I have resumed my electorate work and have been humbled by the generosity shown to me by the people of Franklin and the many messages of support for my decision to continue to be their local member."

Mr O'Byrne effectively sits in the Tasmanian parliament as an independent, but has not spoken in Question Time since the allegations were aired and did not appear at budget scrutiny hearings.

He has voted with Labor on legislation.

Letter had potential to 're-traumatise' 

On Wednesday evening, Ms Midson wrote to Ms White and left faction matriarch senator Carol Brown, questioning whether it was appropriate Mr O'Byrne remained a party member.

"He is using Labor party resources to directly send me correspondence that he would reasonably know has the potential to re-victimise and re-traumatise me," Ms Midson said.

"Do you think this is an appropriate way to communicate with someone who has made sexual harassment claims against you? I believe this instance in itself, is a breach of Labor Party policy and what is expected of members of the party, not least of all members of parliament."

Ms Midson has faced intense scrutiny within the party since making her complaint.

She is the wife of right faction convenor Kevin Midson and sister of independent MP Kristie Johnston, who told parliament in August she was aware of five other women who alleged they had been sexually harassed by Mr O'Byrne. Mr O'Byrne denied the allegations.

His supporters believe Ms Midson's complaint was a factional hit, something she has denied, saying she made her complaint in part because of the party's recent rhetoric about believing women when they made such allegations.

"There is no need or catalyst for [Mr O'Byrne's] email, and it seems nothing more than a rehashing of Mr O'Byrne's tired old excuses for his admitted inappropriate behaviour towards me, and a pathetic attempt to portray himself as the victim in this matter," Ms Midson's letter to Ms White said.

"As if my traumatic experience over the past few months hasn't been enough, this further public victimisation is another pointed example of why women are too afraid to come forward and don't want to put themselves through this ordeal."

Ms White has declined to comment. 

Federal Labor MP Julie Collins, who is also from the left faction and represents the same electorate as Mr O'Byrne, would not answer questions on whether she believed Ms Midson.

"This has all been dealt with and it's an internal party matter," she said.

"We've had a process that has been gone through, it is a process that has been robust, there's been a person put in place [to investigate], it is an internal party matter and I think frankly the public are sick of the Labor Party talking about itself."

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