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Sexual Assault in Canberra

Who knew what? In many cases of sexual assault in politics, events take place behind bolted doors, the perpetrator and victim bound by ties of power, seediness and suppression. The victim is left with an odious and onerous task: to report the event. The risks can be considerable. Careers can be ruined. Retaliation from the political tribe can be remorseless.

Parliaments present a paradox. Encrusted with surveillance, crawling with security, safety would surely be guaranteed for all who work within their walls. But the environment of power, ambition and conspiracy lends itself to hierarchies, asymmetries, and inequalities. Politicians find themselves with access to budgets, forums and staffers. There are receptions and meetings to attend, liquor to consume in abundance, deceptions to cultivate. The risk of wandering hands is ever present.

The staffers, in turn, are mindful of their careers, insecure about their futures to the point of neuroses. They are expected to be unconditionally loyal to politician and party. Nikki Savva, herself a former staffer turned scribe, remembers the time: “The hours were long, the demands never-ending, the stress phenomenal and the fear of stuffing up overwhelming.” The staffer is permanently vulnerable and precariously positioned. Reasons for terminating employment are broad and susceptible to abuse. The parliamentarian can, for instance, do so for having “lost trust or confidence in the employee.” When politicians become arbiters of trust, the condition of the absurd has been affirmed.

Maria Maley, an academic from the Australian National University, busies herself with the sordid business of researching political staff. Over the Australian summer, she interviewed eight former political staffers about their time spent in the offices of ministers and electorate offices at both state and federal level. Her findings were not earth shattering. Staffers were bullied, subject to sexual harassment by colleagues and bosses. “It is hard to know how common this is,” Maley suggests, “as the world they inhabit is secretive.” She is being unnecessarily coy.

On March 23, 2019, Brittany Higgins, a Liberal Party staffer, was allegedly raped in the offices of Australia’s Defence Minister, Senator Linda Reynolds. Having initially contacted police, she felt a deep reluctance to press matters further. An election was about to be called. A month ago, Higgins resigned her political job and recommenced the complaints process with the police.

Both the Defence Minister and then chief of staff Fiona Brown were told by Higgins about the incident. Both expressed shock and promised to support the staffer if she decided to take the matter up with the police. In a manner excised of empathy, Reynolds had decided at the time that it was appropriate to hold a meeting with Higgins at the same venue the attack is claimed to have taken place.

The political machine is coming into full play to stifle. Apologies have come from the Defence Minister and the Prime Minister. “At the time, I truly believed that I and my chief of staff were doing everything we could to support that young woman who I had responsibility for,” explained Senator Reynolds to her colleagues in the chamber. Her intention and aim at the time had been “to empower Brittany and let herself determine the course of her own situation, not by me, not by my staff, not by the government as a whole, but by Brittany.” A true philosophe, is the minister.

Morrison did not do much better. On the morning of February 16, he showed striking emotional immaturity in employing an advertising gimmick. He had, he told journalists, spoken to his wife the previous day. “She said to me, ‘You have to think about this as a father first. What would you want to happen if it were our girls?’ Jenny has a way of clarifying things.” Evidently, things were rather cloudy for the prime minister prior to Monday.

 

Image from pedestrian.tv

 

The tenor of these apologies is tactical. Assault can be managed. Assault can be contained within a bureaucratic compass. And there was the issue of privacy, a weapon often used against the victim to muzzle matters and preserve the status quo. We kept quiet to help her and observe protocol.

Reviews into the complaints processes of Parliament House and the Liberal Party have been promised by Morrison. Much of this is due to ascertaining, or not, as the case often is, the scope of responsibility and prospects for reform. Reviews should be fiercely independent but the Morrison government is taking few risks, despite having conceded to the opposition that a third, independent inquiry should also be initiated. In one line of inquiry, the Liberal Party will be investigating itself, with West Australian MP and former vice-chancellor of the University of Notre Dame Celia Hammond steering matters.

With a former, overly remunerated university vice-chancellor managing the show, putative efficacy is all but guaranteed to fail. Hammond’s conservative Catholicism is also well known, and her views on sex Victorian in reservation.

Complaints regarding staff safety are currently made through the Department of Finance. There is no standalone body to perform that task. Various female members of parliament not affiliated with the major parties have decided that this be redressed. One is Rebekha Sharkie of the Centre Alliance. “I don’t think sitting within the Department of Finance with a minister still in government of the day is really going to provide that level of confidence.” As for Labor, Anthony Albanese has voiced support for “an arm’s length, independent body that is able to investigate and provide support to anyone in this building who has an issue with their safety.”

The looming question remains: Who knew what and when? Morrison is adamant that blissful ignorance reigned till the story broke, going so far as to publicly rebuke Reynolds for having not told him about the allegations. When asked in parliament by the opposition leader Albanese as to whether it was acceptable that the Defence Minister had kept the matter quiet for two years, Morrison was sharply insistent. “It’s not and it shouldn’t happen again.”

The whole matter is smelly enough to be drawing out the sceptics. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull found it “inconceivable that [the matter] wasn’t well known to at least key members of the prime minister’s staff.” Higgins also has an account that rather holes the narrative, claiming that one of Morrison’s senior advisers had called her some months ago to see how she was coping. At least another member of the prime minister’s staff was also charged with handling her complaint. A pattern, distressing and invidious, is rapidly emerging.

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19 comments

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  1. Bronte D G ALLAN

    The trouble with this rape allegation is it occurred during Slo MO’s tenure, & “nothing untoward or illegal EVER ‘happens'”to these fucking so-called “liberals” DISGUSTING! Well said Doctor!

  2. leefe

    “Reviews into the complaints processes of Parliament House and the Liberal Party have been promised by Morrison.” And, like every review or enquiry or investigation into anything that might just possibly have the slightest chance of compromising any member of this misgovernment or their lackeys or their donors, it will lead to exactly zero change.

  3. Henry Rodrigues

    I am waiting with bated breath to hear and see, the reaction from Rupert’s minions (via the Australian), and the dickheads on Kerry Stokes Ch 7 especially that airhead Sam Armitage and egg head Kochie and of course arsewipe Costello’s Independent Always mouthpiece the SMH. They wouldn’t wait for a second to smear Labor in such circumstances.

    The question everyone wants to know is when Scummo knew and what his first reaction was. Did he consult Allan Tudge or Christian Porter or Barnaby rooter on how to handle the situation, in light of their long experience in matters of a sordid nature.

  4. Michael Taylor

    “Who knew what?”

    And with that question, Binoy, you have summed up everything.

  5. Kronomex

    Saint Scotty the Pure will do anything to remain blameless, which I expect will also include throwing others under the bus to try and cover up his complete incompetence. Anyone see yet another running away and hiding sequence in his near future? I hear Oozlum Bird land is a good place to holiday.

  6. Matters Not

    Clearly the PM only needs to know when he needs to know.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NX45hc0aZt0

    Those who were in the know are now looking for a metaphorical political bus with high enough chassis clearance (probably ladder frame – not monocoque) to handle someone of Reynolds’ stature beneath.

  7. Matters Not

    Is the incidence of sexual assault on the increase? Or is just the reporting of sexual assault on the increase?

    Between 2010 and 2018, rates of sexual assault victimisation recorded by police for Australians aged 15 and over rose by more than 30% (from 66.8 to 90.2 per 100,000) (based on ABS 2019). However, it is unclear whether this reflects an increased incidence of sexual assault, an increased propensity to report sexual assault to police or increased reporting of historical crimes

    Any thoughts? Is it the case that it’s still seriously unreported? What percentage of claims are possibly false? Are males or females less likely to report sexual abuse? (And why). What’s a workable definition of sexual abuse? Or should it be up to each individual to determine? etc

    https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/0375553f-0395-46cc-9574-d54c74fa601a/aihw-fdv-5.pdf.aspx?inline=true

  8. Kerri

    Turnbull’s famous “bonk ban” was never anything more than a fig leaf.
    Morrison’s response is, expectedly, worse.
    The answer is simple. Make new rules. Any Canberra staffer, be they political or public service, who is reported to have been sexually involved with another will be immediately relieved of their position without pay. Brutal? Sure! But we all think twice when we know the result will be catastrophic for our future. If the punishments so far are proving to be less than a wet lettuce there needs to be a frighteningly outrageous penalty for over stepping the mark.
    Point 2 zero alcohol in any Australian political buildings. Zero! Dry! No excuses. No shenanigans.
    Politics is all about power.
    So is rape!
    Power is an aphrodisiac that has been seen worldwide to result in tragic outcomes for the underlings regarded as disposable by the powerful.
    And Morrison has shown, yet again, his complete tin ear where women are concerned.
    And let us all think back to Morrison’s “public persona” around this time?
    He was reminding us that anyone who dared to put needles in strawberries would be prosecuted and that he was brave enough to snatch a strawberry on his way into parliament.
    As Albo says all about the photo op!
    Job Shirker.

  9. OnceWasALiberal

    Seems as though our politicians (especially those from the religious right) take the same line as the management level clergy who have, for generations, condoned child rape by concealing it. Perhaps some of our political and religious masters deserve to share a prison cell where they can pray together for prosperity and the rapture instead of Preying together on the unwitting as they do now.

  10. Michael Taylor

    About 50 years ago – when a mere teenager – I was walking along one of Adelaide’s major suburban roads (South Rd) headed to the bus stop. Walking about 50 metres ahead of me was a young lady, maybe 20ish. As she walked past a group of trees out stumbled a bloke (I say “stumbled” because he appeared drunk), and he grabbed her from behind and dragged her screaming into the trees.

    I froze. I was scared. I did nothing. I wouldn’t have stood a chance against the bloke, and there was nobody around I could have ran to.

    I’ve lived with that for 50 years. The level of shame is indescribable.

  11. Andrew J. Smith

    One wonders what the reaction of the media was to Morrison’s comment/cop out: ‘He had, he told journalists, spoken to his wife the previous day. “She said to me, ‘You have to think about this as a father first. What would you want to happen if it were our girls?’ Jenny has a way of clarifying things.”

    He is appears to be claiming that he did not understand the gravity of the situation? More outsourcing or deflecting of responsiblity, morals, ethics and values; or are they simply slogans?

    Further, on media reporting, although C10’s The Project has some broad support as better than many similar programs, they nowadays seem to reflect the pale male conservative status quo. In addition to grilling a victim of racial villification etc. at Collingwood FC i.e. Lumumba (Aly), they did the same with Ms. Higgins who was apprently subjected to a lengthy tabloid like interrogation (Wilkinson)?

    Very curious approach, short of victim blaming, but maybe treading on egg shells due to or shielding both the power and ‘values’, round alleged perpetrators and/or influencers, in rusted on legacy media and target audience in ‘the most successful multicultural nation in the world’ (slogan repeated often to white wash racism, sexism, patriarchy and related behaviour)?

  12. Kronomex

    I just want to see that revolting smirk wiped from his disgusting face a few more times.

  13. Henry Rodrigues

    Kronomex….. me too. The bastard makes me puke every time I see his mug.
    After Abbott, I hate him more than any politician of the past 50 years,

  14. New England Cocky

    Can you believe it????? Today’s date is18 February 2021.
    .
    In Parliament Scummo alleged that he was first aware of the Britanny HIggins sexual assault allegations at 0830 hours on 17 February 2021 and that the Prime Minister’s Office had first knowledge on 05 APRIL 2021.
    .
    Perhaps there is a little bit of Hellslingers magic here ….. I mean, even Blind Freddie can see the untruth here …. and commented that pigs fly to the moon on water-wings every Friday at noon.
    .
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/536118869850084/permalink/3525212174274057/

  15. Pete Petrass

    I am completely and utterly gobsmacked that this arsehole could ever have become our PM. Even as a failed marketing man he seems to think everything in life, even politics, is just a marketing campaign. The marketing spin he has thrown out regarding this rape incident is just totally disgusting, and to stand there and be disputing her claims……unbelievable.

  16. Geoff Andrews

    Aw, come on fellahs. Scott’s OK.
    A successful businessman, he has selflessly thrown himself into the thankless world of politics; where his colleagues, recognizing his god-given talents, have obliged him to reluctantly accept the top job….. no, no, I can’t go on. It’s all lies, lies – I can’t explain what came over me. I think it must have been a nervous reaction to one of Phil’s spittle-flecked raves or wam’s cryptic crossword clues.
    Maybe it’s just all the echoes.

  17. Michael Taylor

    Yeh, he’s a top bloke. Such a fine custodian of moral virtue.

  18. Terence Mills

    In case you missed it with all the other comings and goings, Morrison had a major set back this week and the Nationals seem poised for a a change of leadership.

    This paraphrased from Crikey :

    Scott Morrison was forced into the humiliating position of withdrawing a key bill — his legislation to push the Clean Energy Finance Corporation into funding gas projects — because his own backbenchers, led by former cabinet ministers Barnaby Joyce and Matt Canavan, intended to make it a vehicle for government funding of coal-fired power stations.

    By yesterday the entire Nationals Senate team, led by sports rorter Bridget McKenzie, decided to go further and used the use the bill to pave the way for nuclear power in Australia. (The Nats, bears of little brain, presumably are unaware that if we started building a nuclear power plant tomorrow it would come on line sometime in the late 2030s).

    A government so divided it has to withdraw major legislation at the last minute for fear it will be mutilated or blocked by its own backbench is a rare thing indeed. One can only imagine the screaming headlines if it happened under a Labor government.

    The only way they could now get this legislation through would be if Joyce and Canavan were back in the Cabinet and thus bound by Cabinet solidarity.

    Watch this space !

  19. Kronomex

    Now we have one of that revolting object Craig Kelly staffers who seems to have a thing for young women –

    https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/feb/19/craig-kelly-senior-staff-member-aide-frank-zumbo-allegations-inappropriate-behaviour-young-women

    What a great month for Scummo and the Scummettes February has been so far. The Rupert and the other main sleaze media will have to go into overdrive to try and give them a positive spin. I refuse to use “optics” because it’s the study of light and vision not some bloody marketing word for spin and public relations.

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