JEFF CORBETT: Don Burke allegations are blooming atrocious

It is inconceivable that Don Burke said what he is alleged to have said as he stood with Olympic swimmer Susie O'Neill in front of a painting of a flower.

It is even more inconceivable, to me, that Susie O'Neill invented the statement.

Yes, I know that one inconceivable cannot be more inconceivable than another, and were it not for the growing litany of similar allegations against TV gardening guru Don Burke they would be matched in my mind. 

Ms O'Neill told her story after the first reports of a joint investigation by Fairfax Media and the ABC into allegations by women about the behaviour of Mr Burke towards them, and Fairfax has reported that former Don Burke crew members have confirmed Ms O'Neill's account.

Don Burke and two crew members were at Ms O'Neill's Brisbane home to film her at home as the 2000 Olympics approached, and as Ms O'Neill describes it she and Mr Burke were standing in front of a painting of a flower in her house when Burke asked “Is your c--- as big as that?”. 

In an interview on A Current Affair Mr Burke said that “some of the things that I'm supposed to have said are absolutely despicable” and that he wouldn't say those things. The fact is that Ms O'Neill's account fits easily into a pattern of extraordinary allegations by women against Mr Burke.  

All the allegations are shocking, but Ms O'Neill's allegation is to my mind among the most shocking. The alleged statement is not sexist, or misogynous, or inappropriate, or insulting. It is an assault. 

Mr Burke has sought to explain some of his behaviours by claiming to have Asperger's syndrome, self diagnosed, and understandably this has outraged the association that represents people with that syndrome. Many of the allegations against Mr Burke involve sexually predatory behaviour, and that cannot be excused or mitigated by any explanation, but I can't help but suspect that the incident described by Susie O'Neill and others of that nature was the result of some form of mental illness.

How else can it be explained?

Why would any sane man say that to Susie O'Neill or any woman? Where did he think the statement was going to take him?

It is an exercise of power, some might say, but I cannot understand how or why, and in any event Susie O'Neill was then and is now a person of influence.

It is a product of narcissism, some say, but I don't understand how this sort of statement has anything to do with excessive self esteem or self love.

The big issue, though, is why and how Mr Burke was allowed to continue on television in the face of not only the allegations by women but the acceptance that there was substance to these allegations, as has become clear in recent statements by former Channel Nine CEOs Sam Chisholm and David Leckie.

That I believe I know why Don Burke was protected doesn't make this any less disturbing.

Inevitably, and already, the allegations against Don Burke will come to be seen as reflecting on all men, and while I accept that there is an element of the sexual aggressor, or perhaps predator, in many men the allegations against Mr Burke involve behaviour that will surely shock and disgust all Australian men.

Men are often tarred together. You may recall the saturation cover in the media 20 years ago of what was presented as an epidemic of fathers sexually abusing their daughters, and every edition of every women's magazine had a new horror story to fuel the condemnation. 

At about this time an Australian professor's survey of 300 health and social welfare professionals found that one third of them believed that one in five fathers sexually abuse their children.

It is garbage, of course, that one in five fathers sexually assault their children, but it's a statistic that lived for some time until reason was restored. 

If health and social welfare professionals had been so influenced by the media-driven hysteria, how were we, we fathers, to get on in the wider community! For a while walking hand in hand with a young daughter didn't feel right. Recently we've had the campaign against domestic violence, against men beating their partners, and the suggestion to me sometimes is that there are two types of men: men who bash their wives and men who haven't yet bashed their wives.

No, I am not criticising the campaign against domestic violence. I am pointing out that often men are lumped together unjustly. We are all sons, husbands, fathers, uncles, and there is only one Don Burke.

The big issue, though, is why and how Mr Burke was allowed to continue on television in the face of not only the allegations by women but the acceptance that there was substance to these allegations.