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Luke Foley denies ABC reporter’s sexual harassment allegations.

Luke Foley denies putting his hand down an ABC journalist’s underpants but has resigned as NSW Labor leader as a result of the scandal, saying he will fight the allegations in court.

Mr Foley on Thursday said allegations he groped Ashleigh Raper at a 2016 parliamentary Christmas party were false, and he would launch defamation proceedings in the Federal Court.

“I’ve retained solicitors and senior counsel to advise on the immediate commencement of defamation proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia,” he told reporters.

“However, I can’t fight to clear my name and fight an election at the same time – it’s just not possible to do both.”

Mr Foley said he will stay on as the member for Auburn and return to the backbench.

Responding to Mr Foley’s decision to fight the allegations and remain on the backbench, one of his Labor colleagues said “that is unbelievable”.

“What was that?” the MP told AAP.

“The two other MPs I’ve spoken to said that is atrocious. I think he is just refusing to go in a dignified way.”

Mr Foley came under immense pressure from his own MPs to resign as leader after Ms Raper’s allegations were laid out in a statement released by the ABC on Thursday.

Ms Raper wanted to “set the record straight” about the November 2016 incident in Sydney’s CBD following widespread speculation.

She said the incident involving Mr Foley happened at a bar in Martin Place following a Christmas function involving politicians, their staff and journalists at Parliament House, when he approached her and others to say goodnight.

“He stood next to me. He put his hand through a gap in the back of my dress and inside my underpants. He rested his hand on my buttocks. I completely froze,” she said.

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She said the incident was witnessed by another journalist but she did not make a complaint for a number of reasons – including for fear of losing her job and the negative impact it would have on her family.

But the matter resurfaced in October when Liberal minister David Elliott raised it in NSW parliament, with Mr Foley repeatedly denying any wrongdoing.

Ms Raper said the opposition leader called her on Sunday to apologise, telling her: “I’m not a philanderer, I’m not a groper, I’m just a drunk idiot”.

He told her he would resign as leader of the NSW Labor Party either on Monday or Wednesday.

However, he backtracked on Tuesday, calling her to say he won’t be resigning based on legal advice.

Ms Raper said the “time has come for my voice to be heard” and wanted the political point scoring and speculation to stop, so she could get on with her life.

The ABC said it was “extremely unfortunate” media and public pressure had caused Ms Raper to speak publicly on an issue she didn’t want to pursue or comment on.

“There is absolutely no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Ms Raper and her career should not be affected in any way,” the public broadcaster said in a statement.

Another female Labor MP said she felt betrayed by her parliamentary leader and said his position was untenable.

“The whole thing is sickening and I think he needs to do the right thing,” she told AAP.

Deputy leader Michael Daley appears to be the frontrunner to replace Mr Foley.

Full statement from Ashleigh Raper.

“This is a position I never wanted to be in and a statement I never intended to make.

But I think the time has come for my voice to be heard, for the following reasons:

The escalation of the public debate, including in state and federal parliament, despite my expressed wish to neither comment nor complain, and the likelihood of ongoing media and political interest.

Two recent phone conversations with the Leader of the New South Wales Opposition Luke Foley.

To set the record straight.

In November 2016 I attended an official Christmas function at New South Wales Parliament House for state political reporters, politicians and their staff.

This is what happened on that night.

The party moved from Parliament House to Martin Place Bar after a number of hours.

Later in the evening, Luke Foley approached a group of people, including me, to say goodnight.

He stood next to me.

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He put his hand through a gap in the back of my dress and inside my underpants.

He rested his hand on my buttocks.

I completely froze.

This was witnessed by Sean Nicholls, who was then the state political editor at the Sydney Morning Herald and is now an ABC journalist.

Mr Foley then left the bar.

Sean and I discussed what happened.

As shaken as I was, I decided not to take any action and asked Sean to keep the events in the strictest confidence.

He has honoured that.

I chose not to make a complaint for a number of reasons.

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.

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.

This impact is now being felt profoundly.

When a reporter contacted me earlier this year after hearing about the incident, I informed ABC news management about Mr Foley’s actions.

I told them I didn’t wish to make a complaint or for any further action to be taken.

They respected my request for privacy and have offered me nothing but their absolute care and support.

David Elliot raised the matter in the New South Wales Parliament last month, putting the incident in the public domain.

The matter then became a state and federal political issue and resulted in intense media attention.

This occurred without my involvement or consent.

Last Sunday (4 November) Luke Foley called me on my mobile phone and we had a conversation that lasted 19 minutes.

He said he was sorry and that he was full of remorse for his behaviour towards me at the Press Gallery Christmas function in November 2016.

He told me that he had wanted to talk to me about that night on many occasions over the past two years because, while he was drunk and couldn’t remember all the details of the night, he knew he did something to offend me.

He apologised again and told me, “I’m not a philanderer, I’m not a groper, I’m just a drunk idiot”.

He said he would be resigning as the leader of the New South Wales Labor Party on either the next day (Monday, 5 November) or Wednesday (7 November).

He said he couldn’t resign on the Tuesday because it was Melbourne Cup Day and he didn’t want to be accused of burying the story.

On Tuesday (6 November) Mr Foley called me again.

He repeated his apology and told me he owed me “a lot of contrition”.

He informed me he’d received legal advice not to resign as Opposition Leader.

He indicated he intended to follow that advice.

There are three things I want to come from my decision to make this statement.

First, women should be able to go about their professional lives and socialise without being subject to this sort of behaviour.

And I want it to stop.

Second, situations like mine should not be discussed in parliament for the sake of political point scoring.

And I want it to stop.

Third, I want to get on with my life.

I do not wish to make any further comment.”

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