Australian TV icon Don Burke believes Australians can make their own minds up about whether they can forgive him amid historic allegations that he sexually harassed and indecently assaulted multiple female employees while he was the host of 'Burke's Backyard'.
In an exclusive interview on Monday night with the host of Channel Nine's 'A Current Affair', Tracy Grimshaw, 70-year-old Burke said the way in which people look at him in light of the allegations is "their decision, not mine".
"I am happy to say to the people of Australia: this is my story, make up your mind if I'm the most evil person that's ever lived, that's your decision," he said.
"If you can forgive me for the stupidity and the other things I have done then I am very grateful, but I think that's their decision not mine.
"I have looked in the mirror and there's a lot I don't like. But that's up to the people of Australia to decide if they can forgive me or not."
More than 50 people were interviewed for a joint investigation published by the ABC and Fairfax Media on Monday, which included accusations of groping, lewd language, psychological bullying and relentless talk of sex by female employees -- allegations the celebrity gardener has strenuously denied.
In addition to his denial of the allegations Burke has reportedly sought out the services of a leading defamation lawyer who specialises in "reputational risk".
In Monday night's interview, Burke continued to stringently deny the allegations by questioning the memories his accusers have of events from "30 years ago".
"A lot of those words, I think have just grown over the years. Remember this is 30 years ago, a lot of this. Who remembers exactly what happened 30 years ago?" he said.
"What I know is as a person who does have ethics, I know what I will say, what I won't say, what I will do and what I won't do.
"I'm quite confident in all of that and there's plenty of people that were with me through my trip that sort of say, 'well he wasn't like that'."
He also said that the blame for the allegations falls to "the Twittersphere" in light of the recent Harvey Weinstein sexual assault scandal that has resulted in a "witch hunt" directed towards him.
"I'm guessing it's the social media, the 'Twittersphere' thing. I guess they've stirred this up, there's the Harvey Weinstein thing, and we've got a witch hunt," he said.
"I'm prepared to cop the fact that I might have terrified a few people or whatever and so on, and that I shouldn't have done that and so on, but these sort of things bear no relationship to who I am and what I'm about.
"There are plenty of people from that time at 'Burkes' Backyard' that were there that have come to me and said 'how can they say this?' They're furious. These things didn't happen."
In contrast to the ABC and Fairfax investigation, Burke went on to say that in his time working on 'Burke's Backyard' the staff behind the program never received a complaint of harassment or abuse from anyone he worked with.
"No-one, male or female, ever complained about anything -- whether it's bullying, any sexual issues, nothing -- in all the time, there was not one. I'm sort of thinking why now?" he said.
"I might have been a bear with a sore head, particularly towards the end, but it was a robust exchange there, we were all in prime time.
"I don't accept that I was this Weinstein-like figure bullying down on everyone. It was a robust environment and everyone was entitled to put in their two-pence worth."
As part of the joint investigation, former producers of the 'Burke's Backyard' program described working with the TV icon as "an endurance test in terms of his persistence in commentary about anything sexual".
Further to that, as questions are raised over the knowledge Channel Nine executives had of the allegations against Burke, the managing director and CEO of the Nine Network during the 1990s David Leckie astonishingly described him as a "a dreadful, dreadful piece of work" and a "really dirty old man".
The story about Australia's gardening host Don Burke being an (alleged) Weinstein-like pest is shocking. Not least because it has two TV network CEOs dishing on him ON THE RECORD. Both were his bosses. https://t.co/vbfpY3eRIl— Mark Di Stefano 🤙🏻 (@MarkDiStef) November 26, 2017
"I've been trying to think of Harvey Weinstein-type people [in Australia] and the only one I can ever come up with is Burke," Leckie told the ABC and Fairfax.
On Monday night, the former managing directer of Burke's television production company CTC (Cut The Crap) Productions Michael Freedman also jumped to his defence on the ABC's '7.30' program, saying the company never received any of the allegations made by the ABC/Fairfax report, despite "Don being a difficult man to work with".
"You can tell she wants me." Alleged comments by #donburke to an 8 or 9 year old girl in a schoolyard, according to Louise Langdon @abc730 She says she complained but he remained at the network because executives said he was a "ratings juggernaut".— Tracey Spicer (@TraceySpicer) November 27, 2017
"I worked for Don between 1991 and 1998... During that entire time I did not receive one allegation of sexual harassment of any untoward sexual behaviour by Don Burke to any member of staff or any member of the general public," he said.
"I didn't hear any rumours of sexual harassment. There were rumours about Don being a tough task master and Don being a difficult man to work with and some of those things are true. Don sets very high standards -- he sets high standards for himself and he sets high standards for people that work with him.
"Never once did I hear or was I given an accusation of harassment of any sexual nature or any form of harassment."