Craig McLachlan via Getty

Peter Williams: Sympathy for Craig McLachlan

Peter Williams 08/06/2021

OPINION: I don’t often talk about TV programmes mainly because I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I’m keen to know what you thought about the documentary on Craig McLachlan which was on TVNZ 1 on Monday night. 

In case you’ve been living on Mars and don’t know who Craig McLachlan is, he is one of Australia’s biggest entertainment stars and has been for more than 30 years. In 2018 he was accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault in a media hit job, had to face a trial in court, was found not guilty of all thirteen charges, but has been damaged goods ever since and hasn’t had an acting or showbusiness job in three years. 

The programme was his chance to clear his name and plead for some sort of justice, especially in terms of getting his career back. This was the programme some victims rights advocates did not want to be shown.

But there are some other very serious questions here about the process and about the way there was a quite deliberate project to wreck a man’s career and his life. For a start, if numerous women were concerned about this guy’s behaviour, why not go to the authorities? That’s what we have law enforcement for, is it not? Or am I just too naive?  

Then, if these women were so concerned about McLachlan’s behaviour in The Rocky Horror Show production back in 2014, why didn’t they complain about it then? Wasn’t it just too much of a coincidence that with the Harvey Weinstein case in the US playing out about the same time as the hit job was starting on McLachlan? There is more than a hint of an Australian media lynch job being done on one of the country’s biggest stars? 

Then sprinkled throughout the documentary last night are offcuts from the filming of the women making the accusations about McLachlan. Now in television you can edit and you can picture shifts and you can create an illusion that might not be the full truth, and the show last night did not explain the context of what appeared to be very obvious coaching of the complainants in their TV interviews. But I was left with the distinct impression that the ABC TV story which started this whole episode contained a lot of interview subjects who had words put in their mouth by either the TV interviewer or the director. And that surely reduces the credibility of the story, does it not? 

Can the claims of an interview subject, someone who says she was abused or assaulted by McLachlan, really be taken that seriously when a TV interviewer is shown to be coaching the interviewee in what to say and how to say it?

But remember this is the ABC, the same organisation that refuses to accept an Australian High Court decision that Cardinal George Pell is not guilty of sexually abusing choir boys. Pell was the subject of another media hit job in Australia, initially convicted to much glee from the media before it was pointed out that what he was accused of and what he was convicted of could not have possibly happened, so a full court of seven judges threw the convictions out. 

But the ABC has never apologised. It’s as if they want to take the place of the justice system. McLachlan is a victim of it, and so is the former Australian attorney general, Christian Porter. He was accused, again by the ABC, of something he may or may not have done when he was 17 years old. 

We came close to a similar situation in this country. A high profile man was accused of crimes against his wife about four years ago. This was one occasion where name suppression was worthwhile. The charges were trumped up, and eventually dropped, but he suffered big time. He suffered at work, and his bank balance took a hell of a hit. But at least his name was cleared, and most people who know of him - and he is a well known and familiar personality - don’t know what he went through. 

But not so with Craig McLachlan, or George Pell, or Christian Porter. All accused. All either cleared or never charged. But at what cost? Where is the justice for them? And what penalty is there for their accusers? None.

And then there is the case of the former parliamentary worker in Wellington accused by the Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard of being a rapist. Never proven, never charged. But his life and career are wrecked. Where is the justice in that?  What penalty or repercussion for the accuser? None. Just support from no less than the Prime Minister. 

The system is corrupt. Those who abuse it should be made to pay. But they aren’t.

Listen to Peter Williams every weekday from 9am on Magic Talk.