The wife of embattled CFMMEU boss John Setka says she chose to out herself as the woman he harassed to stop “rumour and innuendo” and highlight the need for greater support for victims – and perpetrators – of family violence.
Mr Setka, 54, was on Wednesday slammed by a magistrate for misogynistic, “nasty” behaviour including one incident where he sent his wife 45 text messages in one night, including family photographs with her face rubbed out.
Standing on the steps of Melbourne Magistrates Court, Emma Walters supported a ruling that her husband go through a men’s behavioural change program, but insisted the offending had come at a time the couple was in a “dark place”.
“I’m his wife. He talks to me more than any of you and I’m saying he’s not a misogynist pig. Does he get angry? Has he said inappropriate things? Has he apologised? Have I accepted that apology? The answer is yes.”
She said she had forgiven the man she loves and respects deeply.
Court documents show that on October 29 last year Mr Setka called his wife 25 times and sent texts labelling her – among other names – a “sneaky c–t” and “f–ken dog”.
“Your dad would be so proud of you, you turned into a drunken moron like the one he left…you weak f–ken piece of shit,” one message read.
Another read: “You just triggered a hatred…I didn’t think existed f–ken dog.”
The harassment flared again over Christmas and New Year when Mr Setka repeatedly called and texted his wife. He later apologised and said he needed help.
Seated together, with arms linked, the couple presented a united front as the court heard their relationship had been “disintegrating”.
To cope, Ms Walters had turned to drinking, while Mr Setka threw himself into his union work.
Lawyer Marcus Dempsey said the couple had been under additional pressure since 2015 when Mr Setka was arrested on suspicion of blackmailing Boral (the charges were later dropped after a lengthy legal battle).
The period was “intense”, the lawyer said, with the couple’s phones bugged and intercepts capturing private conversations even about their difficulties conceiving.
“The qualities that make him good at his job, make him effective, aren’t necessarily compatible with being a husband and father,” Mr Dempsey said.
“It’s a pretty all-consuming job. Publicly, at least, he needed to be seen as indestructible.”
Outside court after his guilty conviction, Mr Setka said he had tried to do the “macho thing” but now realises he should have spoken up about the mounting stress instead of letting it affect his wife.
My wife and I wish to release the following statement. pic.twitter.com/WxAwTv8vvl
— John Setka (@CFMEUJohnSetka) June 26, 2019
“I should have got help sooner and I screwed up. And it’s up to me to fix it,” he said.
“For all men, and all couples … there’s nothing (to be) ashamed (about) seeking help.”
He said he had been in counselling and had realised his language was “inappropriate”, vowed to change – and to help other men change.
“I know people use it every day, but it’s just not acceptable. I apologise for it and I’m ashamed of it,” Mr Setka said.
“While there’s been no physical violence and no threats … some of the language is very inappropriate. I’m embarrassed by it.”
John Setka says he’s embarrassed by the language he used towards a woman in a series of texts & calls a magistrate said were misogynistic. He called the woman “c—t” & “dog”. He’s vowed to change & says he hopes to encourage other men to seek help for their behaviour. pic.twitter.com/mKoTMfPcY2
— Andrea Hamblin (@AndieHamblin) June 26, 2019
Ms Walters, an experienced lawyer, said people had tried to silence her – and swallowed the “Labor Party line” for “political gain” without asking for her version of events.
“Engaged leaders would approach these things differently. What hope have we given other people working through these issues?” she said.
“Instead, the message has been: Don’t talk about it, don’t get help, don’t take responsibility because you risk isolation, persecution, vilification, financial pain.
“I’m in a much better position to deal with all of this than many women out there.
“And the way we’ve handled this really scares me because we should be sending a message out there to both women and men in this situation – you can change. There are institutions that can help you. There are people that can help you. Talk about it. Don’t hide it.
“For those of you who claim to stand up for family values: Why are you trying to tear mine down? We need your support the most.”
Declaring it was time to move forward from the dark place, the couple thanked journalists and stepped from the shadows of the court entrance, arms tight around each other, through a media pack of flashing cameras.
There was just one last grab from the defiant CFMMEU secretary: “I’m not going to quit”.