Policy makers in Canberra are scrambling today following news that a Federal Cabinet MP was accused of rape in the 1980s – and that many of his colleagues have known about the accusations for years. The ABC’s Four Corners program reported on Friday that Prime Minister Scott Morrison had received a letter detailing accusations against the MP (who has not been named publicly) and calling for the prime minister to establish an independent investigation into the assault.
It’s the second rape allegation to rock Canberra in a matter of weeks, following allegations by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins, who says she was raped by a colleague in Defence Minister Linda Reynolds’ office in March 2019.
As more details from both stories came to light in recent days, it became clear that many of Canberra’s elite knew about the allegations but failed to establish an independent investigation into either cases. Some have also revealed they didn’t independently contact police, as they believed the victim had already done so.
The new letter, which was written by a group of the alleged victim’s friends and sent to the prime minister on what would have been her 50th birthday, alleged the victim was brutally raped in 1988 when she was just 16 years old. The incident occurred before the MP entered politics.
NSW police have confirmed the alleged victim contacted the child abuse and sex crimes squad in February 2020 about the alleged assault. She took her own life a few months later.
As public outcry about Canberra’s response to the incidents grows, a number of politicians have spoken out about the need for change in the capital.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese told the ABC that he had been aware of the allegations against the Federal MP for some time.
“There have been rumours around Parliament House for a considerable period of time … I had heard rumours about it,” he said.
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has also confirmed the alleged victim contacted him in 2019, but said he didn’t speak to police about it because it appeared the woman had already done so. He said he spoke to South Australia Police with his knowledge of the allegation upon learning of her death.
It’s still unclear exactly how many politicians knew of the allegations against the MP before they were made public.
Former Liberal minister Sharman Stone told ABC radio national she was sickened by the boys club culture in Canberra. Stone said one group of men in parliament called themselves the “swinging dicks” and actively blocked former Liberal MP Julie Bishop’s leadership aspirations.
“It was a very gendered thing obviously when you call yourself that, and you’re all men in the group,” she said. “Women were considered shrill and hysterical if they raised their voices, or if they shed a tear they were weak.”
The Liberal Party in particular has long been accused of having a ‘woman problem’. Former Victorian Liberal MP Julia Banks quit the party in 2018, citing Liberals’ attitudes towards women as the catalyst for her decision.
“Often when good women ‘call out’ or are subjected to bad behaviour, the reprisals, backlash and commentary portrays them as the bad ones, the liar, the troublemaker, emotionally unstable or weak, or someone who should be silenced,” she said at the time.
“To those who say politics is not for the faint hearted and that women have to ‘toughen up’ I say this: the hallmark characteristics of the Australian woman (and I’ve met thousands of them) – be they in my local community, in politics, business, the media and sport – are resilience and a strong authentic independent spirit.”
Aussie voters have also spoken out about need for change, and have berated politicians on both sides of the aisle for their handling of the accusations. Twitter user at @cunningham_cch said the prime minister’s response to Higgins allegations “lacked empathy”, while @DouginCanberra said “Australia needs decisive moral leadership”.