Outrage over ‘on your knees’ comments
Perth Lord Mayor and Triple M Breakfast radio host Basil Zempilas has said he was taken out of context after commenting on a woman he works with being "on (her) knees" at a press conference where Christian Porter named himself as the subject of a rape allegation, which the Attorney-General denies ever happened.
"I've seen you in your jeans and on your knees before like, that's your casual - you like to get down on the floor don't you?" Mr Zempilas asked West Australian columnist and his Triple M co-host Jenna Clarke, who had just described the Porter press conference as "a very intense scrum".
The comments sparked outrage when they were reported on Twitter by ABC journalist Emma Wynne.
'I’ve seen you in jeans and on your knees before. You like to get down on the floor don’t you?' Basil Zempilas on breakfast radio this morning, speaking to a female journo who was at the Porter presser yesterday.— Emma Wynne (@em_wynne) March 4, 2021
Mr Zempilas responded a few hours later claiming he'd been taken out of context, telling Ms Wynne that "as a journo, you know the importance of fairness and context" and "this tweet provides neither".
"If you heard that bit - you heard the rest," Mr Zempilas said.
"I was clearly asking about my co-host about sitting on the floor at the presser. We talk about seeing her in the cutaways and we then had a chat about how Jenna often sits on the floor when doing an interview. It's simply unfair to have used one line and then not the rest of the discussion," Mr Zempilas said across two Twitter posts.
Emma, as a journo, you know the importance of fairness and context. This tweet provides neither. If you heard that bit - you heard the rest. I was clearly asking about my co-host about sitting on the floor at the presser. We talk about seeing her in the cutaways. And we then... https://t.co/RFxRL2ACg4— Basil Zempilas (@BasilZempilas) March 4, 2021
Ms Wynne did follow up her original tweet within five minutes of posting it to provide further context, saying the comments were "a reference to the fact she had to crouch down to keep out of the way of the TV cameras apparently".
Ms Clarke had commented that she "was just crouching down because I was in front of the cameras" shortly before Mr Zempilas made the comments that sparked outrage.
"Some people wouldn't sit on the floor," Mr Zempilas said after his initial on-air comment sparked an uneasy "sure" from Ms Clarke.
"I mean this, I'm being serious, no innuendo whatsoever, some people would not sit on the floor, I've seen you can be comfortable interviewing somebody on the ground that sort of thing, right?" Mr Zempilas said.
"Yes, it was good to be in the view of the cameras," Ms Clarke said before her male co-hosts, Mr Zempilas and Xavier Ellis "cleared it up".
The comments were left out of a podcast of show highlights.
"What a disgusting inference," one woman wrote in response to Ms Wynne's report of Mr Zempilas' "on your knees" comment.
"Just when I didn't think I could feel any more disillusioned and exhausted this week," another said alongside an "expressionless face" emoji.
Others shared a picture that has been circulating online showing a 17-year-old Christian Porter debating on stage with a 16-year-old Mr Zempilas visible in the background.
The pair both attended Perth's Hale School, "an exclusive independent, Anglican day and boarding school for boys" in the salubrious suburb of Wembley Downs, named after its local golf course.
Mr Zempilas was elected as the 18th Lord Mayor of Perth in October last year, edging out former ABC journalist Di Bain in the contest to see which media identity would lead the city, after a campaign that drew criticism thanks to support from the West Australian newspaper, the only printed paper in town who is also Mr Zempilas' employer.
It sparked a warning from the WA Electoral Commission who instructed him his columns in the paper amounted to election material and should come with political authorisations.
He was in the job for only two weeks when other comments on a different radio show he hosted on 6PR left many upset when he heavily implied transgender people were "wrong".
"If you've got a penis mate, you're a bloke," he said.
"If you've got a vagina, you're a woman. Game over."
The game was not in fact over as he also asked for any women with a penis to ring in for the chance to win a $100 voucher.
Mr Zempilas would later cop to making a "mistake".
"It's my job to be better than that and it won't happen again.
"I do know what a transgender person is and I regret the comments that I made, because I know they're not helpful."
"For a brief moment … I forgot that I was the Lord Mayor of the City of Perth," Mr Zempilas said.
Originally published as Outrage over 'on your knees' comments