ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
Updated April 05, 2012 23:17:49
The New South Wales Premier has jumped to the defence of his Attorney-General, Greg Smith, who has come under fire over comments he allegedly made about a woman who claims she was sexually abused by a priest when she was a child.
Yesterday the ABC’S 7.30 program aired allegations that Mr Smith told a different Catholic priest that the woman was only complaining to try to get $1 million from the church.
No charges have been laid and in a statement the Premier, Barry O’Farrell, says he has been assured the Attorney-General did not influence legal authorities regarding the matter.
“The Premier has been assured that neither the Attorney-General nor his office has been involved in the consideration by the state’s legal authorities of allegations concerning Father Finian Egan,” the statement said.
“Mr O’Farrell has also been assured that this matter has been and will continue to be handled independently by the relevant legal authorities.”
Mr Smith says he cannot recall making the comments, but Opposition Leader John Robertson believes he has serious questions to answer.
“Mr Smith has not denied making those comments,” he said.
“He needs to give a public explanation firstly why it was appropriate that he met with a priest from the church about that matter while it is being considered by the DPP and how he thinks it is appropriate that he should be making those sorts of comments.”
Mr Smith and the accused priest, Father Finian Egan, go back some years, and when Mr Smith was elected to Parliament five years ago he cited Father Egan’s influence in his maiden speech to Parliament.
“At St Gerard’s, Father Finian Egan charmed us with his Irish wit and his pastoral devotion to his flock,” he said in the speech.
Damien Tudehope, now the Attorney-General’s chief of staff, also knows Father Egan well, attending the priest’s church and, as a solicitor, defending him against sexual abuse allegations.
The ABC does not suggest that either Mr Smith or Mr Tudehope have interfered with the potential prosecution involving Father Egan, but critics argue there is an appearance of a potential conflict which the A-G should address.
The latest allegations centre on emails between a priest Mr Smith spoke to and one of Father Egan’s alleged victims, Nikki Wells.
Last year Ms Wells spoke to another Catholic priest about her frustration at the delay of a police investigation into Father Egan.
That priest, who the ABC has agreed not to name, says he then met Mr Smith last July.
After that meeting the priest detailed his version of what was said in an email to Ms Wells which the ABC has obtained.
In the email the priest says Mr Smith told him he thought Ms Wells was trying to take money from the church.
“I was with Greg Smith the other day and I raised your case with him. He commented that ‘you were just trying to get $1m from the church’,” the priest said in the email.
Ms Wells says the conversation was completely inappropriate.
“I was completely horrified that the chief lawmaker in the state could comment on an open criminal case for a start,” she said.
“Secondly, that he’d pass judgment on someone he doesn’t even know and just disbelief that the whole matter that our Attorney-General could speak so publicly about me and my case and a criminal matter.
The ABC asked Mr Smith if the priest’s email description of the meeting and what was said was correct, and in response the Attorney-General issued a statement saying he “recalls no such conversation”.
“The Attorney-General recalls no such conversation and notes that 7.30 has failed to provide any detail which would help his recall,” the statement said.
“He says he would never suggest any victim of sexual abuse was simply motivated by a desire to claim a financial payout.”