CANBERRA: Australia’s prime minister said on Tuesday he was shocked and disgusted by the latest sex scandal to rock his government and vowed to do more to attract women into politics.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a lawmaker’s staff member at the center of the latest allegations of sexual misconduct had been terminated over “disgusting and sickening” behaviour.
Ten Network television news reported late Monday that several male government staffers had set up a Facebook Messenger group that enabled them to share images and video of sex acts performed in Parliament House, including on the desks of female lawmakers.
Perceptions of a culture within Parliament House that is toxic for women have been bolstered since a former staffer alleged last month that she had been raped by a senior colleague in a minister’s office two years ago. She said she did not go to police for fear of losing her job.
Attorney-General Christian Porter has since been criticized for refusing to stand down over an allegation that he raped a 16-year-old girl when he was a teen 33 years ago. The complainant has since died and police have ruled out charges.
“I’m shocked and I’m disgusted. It’s just absolutely shameful,” Morrison said of the Facebook Messenger group.
“I was completely stunned, as I have been on more than one occasion over the course of this last month,” Morrison added.
An emotional Morrison said “a very traumatic month” had passed since the staffer went public with her rape allegation and he welcomed the spotlight that events had placed on political culture.
“I want to see more women in this place,” Morrison said, referring to Parliament House.
“Ive done many things to get more women in this place and I intend to do more,” he added.
The staffer’s rape allegation prompted Morrison to order a review of Parliament House workplace culture by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins. The investigation will conclude in November.
Morrison said he expected compulsory harassment and misconduct training would be introduced in Parliament House as well a “more robust and independent” complaints mechanism for staff who are sexually harassed.
Morrison said he was also open to his conservative Liberal Party introducing a minimum quota of female candidates to run in elections to increase the number of women who serve as lawmakers.
The center-left opposition Labor Party has had female quotas for years, but the conservative coalition parties argue that candidates should be chosen on merit.