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Xenophon hits back at "Gutter SA" after ex alleges "emotional manipulation"

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Nick Xenophon’s tilt for a return to state politics was dealt a bitter personal blow this morning, with his former partner announcing her candidacy for the Upper House with a stunning accusation of “mental and emotional abuse” during their “secret” seven-year relationship – a claim he strongly denies.

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Jenny Low – a long-time staffer to Xenophon’s former NXT colleague John Darley, who sensationally quit the party earlier this year after a falling out with the then-senator – this morning confirmed she would stand for the Legislative Council for the fledgling Advance SA, the party formed by Darley and retired lawyer Peter Humphries.

At a launch complete with champagne and assembled supporters, Humphries and Low announced they will be running mates on the party’s ticket, with Darley already in the midst of his eight-year term.

All three are former Xenophon confidantes who have since fallen out with the imposing political figure; Humphries was jettisoned as a prospective SA Best candidate after publicly refusing to toe the party line on renewable energy. 

But it’s Low’s candidacy that today proved the most troublesome for Xenophon, as she told a packed media conference that she had been a victim of “emotional manipulation” during their long-term relationship, which began when she was a 23-year-old staffer to Darley and he was a 48-year-old fledgling senator.

She did not detail any specific wrongdoing, but said: “I have concerns that [I was] a 23-year old, relatively-inexperienced young woman, [and] that he chose me as a 48 year old man, to pursue me and pursue me aggressively.”

“I was very young, and obviously he had a high profile… it’s not normal to be in a seven-year relationship and not meet any of the family; it’s not normal to have your existence denied to everybody that you know, bar a handful of trusted people,” she said.

“Anybody that’s been in a situation where they’ve been mentally and emotionally manipulated, how can you distinguish what people were doing? It was so insidious, you don’t know it’s happening.”

Low is congratulated by a supporter at the Advance SA party’s official launch. Photo: David Mariuz / AAP

Low alleged Xenophon pursued her “aggressively but secretively”, while emphasising the alleged “abuse” was “mental and emotional” – not physical.

“This behaviour is not okay,” she said.

Asked if she had been concerned Xenophon’s advances would affect her professional career, Low said “yes”.

Low said she did not intend to go public with her claims until she was approached by The Australian newspaper this week about her relationship with Xenophon.

“It was never my intention for this to become public, as people’s personal lives should stay private,” she said, reading from a prepared statement.

“I have always prided myself on keeping my personal and professional lives separate.

“However when a person’s behaviour on personal matters impacts professionally, it becomes an issue.

“I was very young when the relationship began. Being my first long-term relationship, I thought the manipulative and controlling behaviours towards me were normal. I now know that it is not.

“As a society we are now becoming more open to talking about the damaging effect of how men in positions of power treat can treat young women in private – it is unacceptable.”

But Xenophon hit back strongly against the claims, saying in a statement he was “deeply saddened that a failed long-term relationship that I was involved in has been used by the Advance SA Party for blatant political gain”.

“The party should be renamed ‘Gutter SA’,” he said.

According to Xenophon, Low worked for him on his Senate campaign until the November 2007 election, after which “we began a romantic relationship”.

“During the time she worked for the campaign, my relationship with Jenny Low was a purely professional working relationship and I was grateful for her assistance during the campaign… she did excellent work,” he said.

“After Jenny finished working for the campaign, our romantic relationship developed over time.  The relationship waxed and waned, and there were several long breaks until we finally parted company in mid-2014.  I made no secret of the relationship.”

Both Low and Xenophon said they received relationship counselling but, according to the former: “Sadly, that did not save our relationship.”

“We talked about a future together but unfortunately we couldn’t make it work.  In the end we were not compatible,” said Xenophon, who ended the relationship.

“I absolutely reject and am most distressed by any suggestion my relationship with Jenny was abusive or predatory in any way, manipulative or controlling.  I deeply regret that we couldn’t make the relationship work.”

Darley told media at today’s party launch he became of the relationship around 2010/11, and while “it certainly didn’t affect Jenny’s performance, [it affected] the communication between our two offices because Jenny was sending my emails”.

He alleges Xenophon ignored an email about the NXT’s policy position on upper house reform – the issue that sparked their split – “because, I believe, it was under Jenny’s name”.

“So it did impact on the work of the party,” Darley said.

But Xenophon responded angrily to the assertion, saying Darley “never expressed any concerns to me about the relationship prior to today”.

“That he now chooses to use my former relationship at his party’s launch smacks of the lowest form of dirty and desperate political opportunism,” he said.

“They clearly have not hesitated to get into the gutter at the first opportunity.”

Nick Xenophon. Photo: Mick Tsikas / AAP

That was echoed by a longtime staffer and confidant of both Xenophon and Darley, Connie Bonaros, who said in a statement that “politics in SA has hit an all-time low”.

“I cannot stand by and watch Nick and his family be unjustly and unfairly drawn into the debate on predatory behaviour against women that is so topical around the world at the moment,” Bonaros said.

“I take any form of abuse or predatory behaviour against women in particular, extremely seriously, but what was said about Nick today is just wrong.

“I have known Nick for 13 years and I personally am distressed at the unfair and unfounded personal attack on him today.”

She said she worked with Low on Xenophon’s senate campaign and “at no time during Jenny’s work on the campaign did I witness any inappropriate conduct by Nick towards Jenny or anyone else.” 

“Nick’s conduct was entirely respectful and professional.”

She said she became aware of the relationship after the campaign ended.

In dealing with Low in Darley’s office, Bonaros said: “I saw Nick and Jenny together and never witnessed anything to indicate the relationship involved emotional abuse, manipulation, control or predatory behaviour on the part of Nick.”

“The break-up was hard for both of them but particularly so for Jenny. Despite this, I saw Nick continuing to treat Jenny with courtesy and respect on a professional basis after the relationship broke up.”

Bonaros also “questioned the timing of today’s statement”, alleging that “Jenny has made threats in the past about going public, presumably to damage Nick”.

InDaily has sought a response to that claim from Low.

Darley said of Xenophon’s claim of “gutter” politics that he “expected that from him”.

He said Low’s allegations only happened today because she had been asked about the relationship by a reporter yesterday, adding: “Nick never accepts responsibility for anything.”

Low said she was seeking to enter parliament to further her passions for “advancing women’s rights and the education of young people”.

She called the relationship “destructive”, saying: “It’s like a frog being boiled in a pot – you don’t know you’re boiling to death until you’re at that point.”

“There are many more details I could go into… I’m choosing not to,” she said.

She did not wish to answer whether she and Xenophon had lived together during their relationship, saying: “I don’t see that serving any purpose other than to gossip-mongers.”

However, she insisted she could work with Xenophon and any prospective SA Best crossbenchers if elected to parliament.

“The nature of politics is you’re best friends with someone one minute, and you hate them the next,” she said.

“You have to be professional and you have to work with them, because that’s the nature of the job.

“I do it every day – and have done for 10 years.”

Xenophon said that while “what Jenny Low said is extremely hurtful and wrong, I can only wish her well”.

Humphries, Advance SA’s lead Upper House candidate, described it as “very much a centrist party”, lamenting SA’s economic malaise across several areas and noting that “we’re becoming irrelevant federally” because of declining population growth.

However, the party’s first formal policy is not economic, but social – a commitment to pursue legalising voluntary euthanasia.

“We’ll be doing everything we can to bring back in the legalisation of medically-assisted dying,” he said.

“It’s something the majority of the SA public support, and they’ll have an opportunity to demonstrate that support by voting for us at the next election.”

Humphries said of his own falling out with Xenophon: “Nick and I have known each other for a very long time… not quite the same way Jenny has”.

“We’ve always enjoyed a friendly, amicable relationship,” he said.

JENNY LOW’S WRITTEN STATEMENT IN FULL:

I confirm that I was in a long-term personal relationship with Nick Xenophon. It was never my intention for this to become public as people’s personal lives should stay private. Were it not for the investigation, I would not be speaking of this issue. I have always prided myself on keeping my personal and professional lives separate.

However when a person’s behaviour on personal matters impacts professionally, it becomes an issue.

I was very young when the relationship began. Being my first long term relationship, I thought the manipulative and controlling behaviours towards me were normal. I now know that it is not. As a society we are now becoming more open to talking about the damaging effect of how men in positions of power treat can treat young women in private. It is unacceptable.

It is very difficult for me to speak up about my personal experience with a man in power. It is only because of the investigation by the Australian that I am speaking about this. Nick has denied any negative behaviour and I am not surprised by this; to accept it would be to accept responsibility for his actions. The reality is that a 48 year old man in a position of power pursued a 23 year old who was in a junior role.

I do not want to be known as someone’s partner or ex-girlfriend; I am my own person and my experience within a destructive relationship has made me stronger as an individual. A positive of The Australian uncovering this information is that my own experiences may help others who are in similar circumstances and we can support each other.

I will be running as a candidate in the Upper House at the next South Australian election for Advance SA. I have 10 years parliamentary experience and a degree in behavioural science. As an educated professional woman, I want my election campaign to be focused on how my skills and professional experience can contribute to serving the people of South Australia.

NICK XENOPHON’S WRITTEN RESPONSE IN FULL:

I am deeply saddened that a failed long-term relationship that I was involved in has been used by the Advance SA Party for blatant political gain.  The party should be renamed Gutter SA.

Jenny Low worked for me as a campaign worker until November 2007.  After she ceased working for the campaign, we began a romantic relationship.

During the time she worked for the campaign, my relationship with Jenny Low was a purely professional working relationship and I was grateful for her assistance during the campaign.  She did excellent work.

After Jenny finished working for the campaign, our romantic relationship developed over time.  The relationship waxed and waned, and there were several long breaks until we finally parted company in mid-2014.  I made no secret of the relationship.

I did my best to make the relationship work.  We both sought and obtained relationship counselling together in late 2013 and early 2014.  Sadly, that did not save our relationship.

We talked about a future together but unfortunately we couldn’t make it work.  In the end we were not compatible.

I absolutely reject and am most distressed by any suggestion my relationship with Jenny was abusive or predatory in any way, manipulative or controlling.  I deeply regret that we couldn’t make the relationship work.

Mr Darley has never expressed any concerns to me about the relationship prior to today.  That he now chooses to use my former relationship at his party’s launch smacks of the lowest form of dirty and desperate political opportunism.

I’m deeply disappointed the level of political debate in our state has plummeted to such depths.  When I entered this campaign I forecast my political opponents would throw everything at me including the proverbial kitchen sink.  They clearly have not hesitated to get into the gutter at the first opportunity.

Finally, while I find what Jenny Low said is extremely hurtful and wrong, I can only wish her well.

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