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Australian political leader faces harassment allegations months from election

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Australian political leader faces harassment allegations months from election

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SYDNEY (Reuters) - The opposition leader of Australia's most populous state was on Thursday embroiled in a #MeToo row after a female reporter released a statement detailing alleged inappropriate behaviour, four months ahead of an election he was in a position to win.

    New South Wales (NSW) state Labor party leader Luke Foley denied any wrongdoing when harassment allegations were first raised by a government minister in parliament on Oct. 18.

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    Foley has not issued a comment since the statement was released and his spokesman did not answer the telephone or respond to emails seeking comment.

Australian media said Foley's political career was in jeopardy because of the journalist's statement, and Labor's chance of winning power in Australia's largest state in the election in March could be weakened.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) issued the statement from one of its journalists that detailed alleged misconduct by Foley at a Christmas function in Sydney in 2016, in which she said she was forced to go public because the issue was raised in parliament.

The reporter, Ashleigh Raper, said in her statement that she never wanted the issue to go public.

    "It is clear to me that a woman who is the subject of such behaviour is often the person who suffers once a complaint is made," Raper said in her statement.

    "I cherished my position as a state political reporter and feared that would be lost. I also feared the negative impact the publicity could have on me personally and on my young family."

    Raper said she issued the statement because she wanted harassment of women to stop, for politicians to stop using such incidents for "political point scoring", and to get on with her life.

    The ABC, which ran Raper's statement in full, said it had discussed with her the alleged incident earlier this year and had adhered to her request to keep it private.

    "The ABC considers it extremely unfortunate that media and public pressure has been applied to Ms Raper during these past months and caused her to speak publicly on an issue she did not wish to pursue or to comment on," the ABC said in its statement.

A ReachTel poll in September had Labor and the ruling conservative coalition running neck-and-neck ahead of the state election, set for March 23.

"The polls are so tight. Labour can ill-afford this episode less than five months out from the next election," said Peter Chen, political science professor, University of Sydney.

The NSW economy accounts for one-third of Australia's gross domestic product and at $400 billion is larger than the economies of Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines.

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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