BY PAUL PAECH
Good Friday back in 2015. Waverley Council’s Mayor Sally Betts was being interviewed live by 2UE’s Stuart Bocking, and she was trying to justify writing a character reference for a local resident called Luke Lazarus.
Lazarus had been found guilty of the vicious rape of an 18-year-old virgin in the laneway behind his father’s Piccadilly Hotel in Kings Cross and Mayor Betts was out there arguing that he shouldn’t go to jail.
In the short interview (https://tinyurl.com/yac58ubn), Betts had already paraded her close connections to the Lazarus family, about various “charities” that they’d supported over the years, and offered some chilling quaint ideas about how to prevent rape.
Betts was desperately making excuses for Lazarus’ behaviour, describing the 21-year-old as a “kid … who had strayed a bit out of the mainstream”.
Then, in the middle of that 13-minute interview it suddenly occurs to Betts (like BANG) that Luke Lazarus wasn’t the only person caught up in all of this, and – for just four seconds in a twelve minute interview – Betts considers the fate of the victim:
“I don’t know how you make amends to the young woman.”
A slight pause, but then she’s back on track, working as hard as she can to find excuses to get “this kid” off the hook.
Even at the time, Betts’ interview was shocking for its callous disregard of “the young woman”, but it looks so much more shocking after last week’s Four Corners programme I Was That Girl where Lazarus’ victim Saxon Mullins bravely told of the enduring consequences for her of Lazarus few minutes’ selfish pleasure in Kings Cross.
Four Corners gave an extraordinary insight into how a wealthy Eastern Suburbs family used its wealth and power to protect its privileged son from the legal consequences of his actions in wantonly exploiting the vulnerable.
And, as it turned out, Betts’ letter of defence (along with similar letters from an honorary secretary of the Honorary Consulate-General of Greece in Brisbane, and the Rabbitohs chairman Nick Pappas, a relative) played a role in establishing the “good character” of Lazarus, and thus the 2017 acquittal.
With the Lazarus decision, the state government has rightly triggered an inquiry into NSW’s sexual assault laws, but public resentment may not be so easily satisfied. Typically, widespread anger like this demands a symbolic sacrifice.
With Saxon Mullins’ powerful story, the finger is turning to Lazarus’ most visible supporter, Councillor Sally Betts.
And here there’s an important question: Why did Betts stick her neck out for the Lazarus family? What does the Lazarus connection do for Betts?
A former Liberal Councillor has alleged that Betts held her own birthday party at the Lazarus/Parras family owned Eastern Hotel, but that’s not a crime, unless she didn’t pay for it.
There’s suspicion that they may be donors to local Liberal Party campaigns, though you wouldn’t find out. Betts’ returns always shows nil income, and nil expenditures.
Two years ago, ICAC’s Operation Spicer identified the Free Enterprise Foundation as the means by the Liberal Party had channelled donations to avoid legislation prohibiting contributions from property developers.
Because of the huge illegal slush fund it operated for the 2011 state election campaign, the NSW Party lost $4.4m government campaign funding.
Betts has already said she knew exactly what she was doing when she wrote the reference, and that she expected to “take a hit” for it, and that she has already taken a hit: her political career collapsed at last years’ council elections.
People in that know say that there was something about Betts that voters (especially Liberal women) found “distasteful”: with a little prompting, voters pointed to the stench around Lazarus.
With Four Corners’ examining this awful event and showing the shocking behaviour of his family (big fat party after acquittal), Betts’ loss of local political power may not be punishment enough.
Betts’ cosy long-term tax-payer-funded sinecure in Malcolm Turnbull’s Wentworth electoral office should be under threat.
Already in 2015, Turnbull sensing a moral as well as a legal issue, put Betts’ job on the line, promising that he would comment on the matter once the letter investigations were complete.
The legal case is now concluded, and Turnbull can make his moral position clear.
For just as long as he continues to employ Betts, he will be implicated in the nasty mechanisms of power which let Luke Lazarus off the hook, and turning his back on women.
Betts was contacted by City Hub, but failed to respond.