Australian parliament is unsafe for women’: lawmaker details sexual misconduct by ‘influentials’

New Delhi: An Australian lawmaker shared distressing allegations on Thursday, revealing that she had been subjected to sexual misconduct within the parliament premises, highlighting that it was not a safe environment for women to work.

During an emotional address in the Senate, independent politician Lidia Thorpe disclosed that she had endured sexual comments, instances of being cornered in a stairwell, inappropriate touching, and unwelcome advances from influential men.

Earlier, Thorpe had accused a fellow senator, David Van, of sexually assaulting her, but was compelled to withdraw the statement due to the possibility of facing parliamentary sanctions.

On Thursday, Thorpe reiterated the core of her allegations against David Van, a member of the conservative Liberal Party, despite his strong denial of the claims.

Van expressed his deep distress over the allegations and emphasized their complete falsity when speaking to local media.

In response to the accusations, Van’s Liberal Party suspended him on Thursday.

Although the allegations were shielded by Australia’s stringent defamation laws, Thorpe explained that Van had involved legal representatives in the matter, necessitating her to restate her case while navigating parliamentary protocols.

Thorpe emphasized that the term “sexual assault” can be interpreted differently by different individuals as she described her personal experiences within the crucible of Australian democracy.

“I encountered instances of being followed, aggressively propositioned, and inappropriately touched,” she recounted.

She further revealed, “I was afraid to leave my office. Before stepping out, I would cautiously open the door, checking if the coast was clear.”

Thorpe also shared that the situation was so severe that she needed someone to accompany her whenever she entered the parliamentary building.

She added, “I am aware that there are others who have faced similar experiences but have chosen not to come forward due to concerns about their careers.”

‘Sexist culture’

Since 2021, Australian politics has been roiled by high-profile allegations of assault and harassment inside parliament.

At that time former political aide Brittany Higgins alleged that a fellow conservative staffer raped her on a couch in a cabinet minister’s parliamentary office following a night of heavy drinking in March 2019.

Five separate investigations followed, collectively delivering a scathing indictment on the frequently sexist nature of Australian politics.

A 2021 government-backed inquiry found that sexual harassment and bullying were widespread in Australia’s parliament, affecting both lawmakers and staff.

One in three people working in parliament at the time said they “have experienced some form of sexual harassment while working there”.

That included 63 percent of the country’s female parliamentarians.

The Higgins case sparked national protests and a court case that was eventually judged to be a mistrial and not retried because of the risk to her mental health.

The man in question has sued multiple journalists for reporting on the case and threatened to sue his accuser.

He denied the allegations, and in court pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexual intercourse without consent.

The controversy has reignited in recent weeks, after opposition conservatives leapt on a series of leaked text messages to accuse the now centre-left government of politicising the case. (Courtesy: First Post)