Conflicting accounts of Duluk incident create ‘reasonable doubt’, court told

SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros told a staffer she did not want a photograph of her at a Parliament House Christmas party with Sam Duluk, the MP she later accused of assault, to “see the light of day”, a court has heard.

Jun 02, 2021, updated Jun 02, 2021
Connie Bonaros arrives at court. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Connie Bonaros arrives at court. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Bonaros yesterday gave damning testimony against her parliamentary colleague, who stood aside from the Liberal party-room last year after he was charged with basic assault, stemming from his actions at the December 2019 corridor drinks function.

It is alleged Duluk touched Bonaros on the bottom, with the SA Best MLC telling the Adelaide Magistrates Court yesterday: “It was a whack [that] sounded like a loud smack.”

However, Marie Shaw QC, for the defence, argued the action was considerably less forceful.

Bonaros told the court she had earlier posed for photographs with Duluk and Labor MLC Justin Hanson, during which the then-Liberal MP for Waite picked her up after she joked that she was “clearly very short in this line-up”.

Shaw revealed Bonaros had weeks later discussed the photographs via text message with a staffer, whom the court heard was told: “I don’t want them to see the light if (sic) day.”

Bonaros replied that she did not recall the text messages, “but if I did say that, I did it for very obvious reasons”.

“I was under a huge amount of stress, and I didn’t want the entire thing to see the light of day,” she said.

Bonaros told the court Duluk arrived uninvited to the crossbench-hosted party from a nearby Liberal drinks event. She said he appeared intoxicated, drank gin straight from the bottle and poured ice down the front of her dress before later “whacking” her on the bottom.

“I felt ice coming down my dress and I knew it was coming from Mr Duluk’s hand,” Bonaros told the court under cross examination.

However, the court also heard from prosecution witness Emily Bird, who was then a senior staffer for Greens MLC Mark Parnell.

Bird gave a different account of events, including that Duluk never put ice down Bonaros’s dress.

“Mr Duluk had taken some ice and thrown it – a lot of it went on the floor [and] I got some in my bag of chips,” Bird told the court.

“I noticed Connie had moved out of the way so he wasn’t able to put any down the front of her dress.”

Bird told the court she witnessed the incident at the centre of the basic assault charge, but did not describe it in the same terms as Bonaros had done, saying: “I saw [Duluk] come out and touch her on the bottom.”

She mimed the action she witnessed for the court, with magistrate Jonathan Wells describing it as “the right hand moving downwards and across” while Duluk and Bonaros were standing closely side by side.

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Shaw told the court the defence would be submitting that “the conflict” between “the incident described by Ms Bird and the incident described by Ms Bonaros” left a reasonable doubt as to Duluk’s guilt.

Bonaros said after the alleged assault she told Duluk to “sit the fuck down”, grabbing his hands and guiding him towards a chair.

She said she left for the bathroom shortly afterwards and didn’t see Duluk again on her return.

However, Bird told the court she believed the pair shared a brief interlude on the dancefloor – instigated by Duluk and quickly terminated by Bonaros – after the incident.

In cross-examination, Shaw asked Bonaros: “What do you say to suggestions you and Mr Duluk were walking side by side, and in the course of that Mr Duluk patted you on the backside?”

Bonaros replied: “That’s not my recollection… I don’t accept that’s my account.”

She agreed her account was that the contact was “a whack that essentially caused [her] to have to regain balance”.

But Shaw suggested “that insofar as this incident you’ve described is concerned, nothing like that occurred at the time you’ve described, or any time for that matter”.

“That’s incorrect,” Bonaros repied.

The trial will continue today.

Duluk would not be forced to relinquish his seat if found guilty, however an acquittal would ignite fierce debate within Liberal ranks about whether he could return to the party-room.

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