Scott Morrison must show leadership over Parliament rape scandal

03 March 2021

For days now I have woken up with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Allegations of rape swirl around the federal parliament and are largely ignored and unanswered by Prime Minister Morrison and the other 16 men who form part of the ministry of the federal cabinet.

Miss Higgins came forward with her brave allegations against a staffer in the office of the Minister for Defence, Linda Reynolds, the initial response from the government was to hide behind a non-existent police investigation. As of writing this Minister Reynolds, the Prime Minister and anyone else who was asked refused to comment.  The Prime Minister’s early tone-deaf response created additional anger as he prefaced his remarks with  “Jenny and I spoke last night, and 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, always has.”

The Prime Minister has also claimed, despite many of his staff knowing of the allegation including his chief of staff, that he was left out of the loop.

Australia is asking where was the human response from this government?  Where was the support and empathy from the government for Miss Higgins and the appalling attack she allegedly endured on the couch of the Defence Minister? The Government’s response to setup an internal inquiry headed up by another government MP Cecelia Hammond is not an empathy response but one of self-preservation for this embattled government.

A week later we heard of another horrific allegation against a current unnamed cabinet minister and once again the empathy and inaction from the prime minister is on full display.  Tragically the victim in this case took her own life late in 2020.  But she has made sure her allegation hasn’t passed with her, she has told family and friends, there are diaries and letters, she has also written to the prime minister, Senators Penny Wong and Sarah Hanson-Young.  It seems there are many people inside and outside the parliament who know her name and the name of the alleged perpetrator.  Once again, the Prime Minister wants us to believe he knew nothing of this matter until last week, although he did acknowledge there had been “gossip.”  The PM has spoken to the alleged perpetrator who has vehemently denied this allegation.  No one is surprised.  The Cabinet Minister won’t be stepping aside and has the full backing of the PM.

Like the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, this matter is not going to go away, too many people know the names of the victim and the alleged perpetrator, more details will slowly leak out, then there’s parliamentary privilege, the perpetrator and indeed the victim could be named in the parliament.

The prime minister must now act decisively, he must show leadership.  The cabinet minister in question must stand aside, preferably he should “out” himself and stand down.  If not, then the prime minister must request he do so.  An independent inquiry must be established and to do what it can to get to the truth of this matter.  The terms of reference for the other independent inquiry which the government finally agreed to must include a process for dealing with any future allegations.  It needs to be clear and it needs to set out what is expected and what the process will be for the victim and perpetrator.  Standing down the perpetrator must clearly be examined.

As elected representatives, the public should have confidence in our behaviour and how we carry out our roles.  The public is also entitled to know and understand that if we fall short of these expectations, there is an open and transparent way of holding us to account.

I fear as long as Scott Morrison and his government evade accountability and transparency, the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach will not go away.

A shorter version of this piece was published by The West Australian