An independent review into how the ACT Greens handled allegations of sexual misconduct by former MLA Johnathan Davis by Lynelle Briggs found while the party didn’t “wilfully or improperly” withhold information, it should have reported the matter to police sooner.
“I have not been able to find any evidence that [Johnathan Davis’s] alleged activities with young people under 18 were known by senior party leaders of any political party,” she wrote.
Mental Health Minister and close friend of Mr Davis, Emma Davidson, was the first party member to be told about “rumours” regarding Mr Davis’s conduct with younger men. She held off for a week before telling party leader Shane Rattenbury about the allegations.
She did tell the Greens’ executive chief of staff Guy Bromley about the allegations, who began looking into them to test their “veracity” before the pair went to Mr Rattenbury.
Throughout the course of her review, Ms Briggs met with the original complainant, who told her he had spoken with the Greens to stop any potential misuse of power by Mr Davis, whom he described as “very persistent” and “using coercive behaviour”.
“He said that Mr Davis knew he was under 18 [when they were having consensual encounters] and that he persistently pursued him for sex and that he solicited nude photos from him,” Ms Briggs wrote.
“He alleged that Mr Davis had had sexual relations with other young men arranged through various platforms and other means; some under 16.”
Under Commonwealth law, it is illegal to receive or send explicit photographs of a person under the age of 18.
The complainant also made allegations that Mr Davis had blocked himself and others on dating platforms from 6 November 2023, the date Mr Davis found out Ms Davidson and Mr Bromley knew about the allegations and when he had informed Mr Rattenbury of them.
“[This removed] most records of their engagements except where those concerned had taken screenshots of some of their messages, as [the complainant] had done,” Ms Briggs wrote.
“The removal of records that I understand took place was initiated by Mr Davis after his meetings with Ms Davidson and Mr Bromley, and with Mr Rattenbury, [and it was done] unbeknown to them.”
After initial media reports of Mr Davis’s alleged conduct, four more complainants also came forward to the Greens.
This included one person who said they were 15 during their interaction with Mr Davis.
Reports were made to ACT Policing, the ACT Integrity Commissioner and the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly regarding the 15-year-old.
It was not within the review’s terms of reference for Ms Briggs to substantiate or prove these claims.
Ultimately, Ms Briggs found the Greens should not have been the ones to investigate the complaints.
“As Mr Bromley subsequently came to realise, damage can be done if investigations of this nature are not handled sensitively and carefully, and I note that the young complainant advised me that he suffered as a result,” she wrote.
“Investigations that are criminal or potentially criminal in nature are complex and difficult and are rightly the responsibility of police.”
However, she also noted if the Greens hadn’t initially investigated, police may have found the reports too vague to follow up.
The complainant, given they are now 18, told police to drop his matter.
Ms Briggs also found the Greens had thought about the issue from a member’s perspective rather than thinking about their duties as part of the government.
Questions were raised about why Ms Davidson had waited so long to pass on the information in the first place.
“As a Minister of Government, it is surprising that she did not report the rumours to her party leader, Mr Rattenbury, and to the Chief Minister in his capacity as government leader because this was potentially a very serious matter,” Ms Briggs wrote.
“The reality is that trauma-informed measures do not diminish a Minister’s or other adult’s responsibility to go to the police if sexual illegality in relation to children and vulnerable young people is suspected.”
Ms Briggs recommended mandatory reporting within 24 hours of any allegations of sexual activity by politicians with children and young people, even if there were doubts, to both police and the Legislative Assembly Commissioner for Standards.
“Any political party dealing with such an unfolding nightmare would have struggled to know exactly what to do and when to do it,” she noted.
Other recommendations included that the Greens Party Room amend its policies and practices to ensure their governance procedures comply with Assembly policies and practices, that the Assembly review its victim support arrangements for community members who are reporting inappropriate behaviour by Ministers, and that the MLA Code of Conduct be altered to focus on members’ behavioural probity and ensuring their personal conduct doesn’t bring the Assembly into disrepute.
ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury said his party accepted Ms Briggs’ assessment.
“We stepped forward and sought to take responsibility. What the review tells us is we should have stepped back and let others take responsibility,” he said.
“Heaven forbid, [if] we were faced with these circumstances again, we would obviously take some different steps to those that we took on this occasion.”
Mr Rattenbury also apologised to the complainant for any distress the process had caused him.
Despite their close friendship, Ms Davidson insisted her focus had been on the complainant, not Mr Davis.
“The very first thing I did when I heard this information was to acknowledge that this was a serious matter,” she said.
“I [did] seek to pass on information to anyone who was in contact with that young person about support services that are available and that they could report any illegal behaviour to police.
“[The allegations] came as a shock to me … but my primary concern was always that there was a young person out there who had had a potentially traumatic experience and to make sure that any information they chose to share was treated seriously and respectfully.”
No findings have been made about Mr Davis by any authorities.
If this reporting has caused you concern, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, or call Triple Zero (000) in an emergency. You can report a crime or request police assistance on 131 444.
Victim Support ACT can provide help whether or not you have had contact with police on 1800 822 272 or the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre on 6247 2525. QLife Australia provides support for the LGBTQIA+ community on 1800 184 527.
Original Article published by Claire Fenwicke on Riotact.