SYDNEY: The crisis engulfing Australia’s politics has continued to grow following the emergence of videos showing staff members performing sex acts in parliament, leading to one senior aide being fired, reports BBC.
One video showed the aide performing a sex act on a female MP’s desk. Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the videos as “disgraceful”. It comes after a former staff member revealed how she feared losing her job following an alleged sexual assault.Brittany Higgins alleges she was raped by senior colleague in an office in March 2019, but says she felt pressured not to report the incident to police.
It sparked a wave of allegations, and last week, thousands took part in marches to protest against the sexual abuse and harassment of women in Australia.
The videos were leaked to Australian media by a former government staff member, who said he had become “immune” to the pictures because of the sheer volume he received. As well as the videos - filmed two years ago - he said people had used the prayer room to have sex and even brought sex workers into parliament.
The whistleblower described a “culture of men thinking that they can do whatever they want”, describing some of his colleagues as “morally... bankrupt”. Morrison told reporters on Tuesday he was “shocked”, adding: “We must get this house in order. We must put the politics aside on these things, and we must recognise this problem, acknowledge it, and we must fix it.”
He has previously been criticised for his response, including for declining to meet protesters last week. He had invited march leaders to meet him in parliament, but they rejected the offer saying they would not meet “behind closed doors”.
Questions over the government’s handling of the crisis were once again raised after backbench government MP Michelle Landry said she “felt sorry” for the fired aide.But cabinet minister Karen Andrews told reporters her “conscience will no longer allow me to remain quiet” over sexism in Australian politics, saying gender quotas for political representatives should be considered - something Mr Morrison indicated he would not be entirely opposed to.
“We tried it the other way and it isn’t getting us the results so I would like to see us do better on that front,” he told reporters.
Labor, the opposition party, already have quotas in place.
There has long been allegations of bullying and harassment in Australian politics. However, Ms Higgins’ allegations have shone a spotlight on sexual assault and sexism.
In the days after she went public with her story, more allegations emerged - with Attorney General Christian Porter revealing he was the subject of a 1988 rape allegation.
He denies the allegation, and police closed the investigation because of a lack of evidence.
Ms Higgins’ former boss, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, was also forced to apologise and pay compensation to her former aide, after calling her a “lying cow”.
Critics say the government has also been too slow and ineffective in responding to wider accusations of sexism and misogyny in parliamentary culture - a problem they say extends across party lines.
The Labor opposition has said it would review its culture after dozens of anonymous allegations of sexual harassment and sexism against male figures within its party.
In his press briefing, the prime minister acknowledged widespread criticism of his own statements in the past two months.
These included a backlash over him invoking his role as a husband and father while discussing his response to an alleged assault.
Another involved him being accused of setting a low bar for democracy when he said of the protests: “Not far from here, such marches, even now are being met with bullets, but not here in this country.”
On Tuesday, he acknowledged “many had not liked or appreciated” his comments, but insisted he was committed to driving broad cultural change.
But moments afterwards, Mr Morrison drew criticism for publicly airing a previously unreported sexual harassment complaint at a media organisation.
Opponents accused him of “weaponising” the complaint following a standard question from a reporter at the outlet, Sky News Australia.
“What about the woman at the heart of that complaint now? National news,” said Labor Senator Katy Gallagher.