Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Tuesday he was shocked and disgusted by the recent sex scandal that hit his government, adding that he wanted more women to join politics.
“It’s just utterly shameful,” Morrison said of a group chat at the center of the scandal. “I was completely stunned having been there more than once in the past month.”
“I want to see more women in this place,” said Morrison, referring to the parliament building. “I’ve done a lot of things to bring more women to this place and I plan to do more.”
A government official has been removed from his position and the government has promised further action in response to the allegations.
What is the latest scandal about?
Several male government employees had set up a group chat in which they exchanged pictures and videos of sexual acts in the parliament building, including on the desks of female lawmakers.
The photos and videos were leaked by a whistleblower and first revealed late Monday by the Australian newspaper and Channel 10.
This sparked outrage among lawmakers and the Australian public.
The whistleblower, identified only as Tom, told news outlets that government officials and lawmakers often used a prayer room in the parliament building to have sex.
He also alleged that sex workers were brought into the building “for the pleasure of coalition MPs”.
The group of agents on the chat routinely shared explicit photos of themselves, adding that he had received so many that he had “become immune to them”.
There was a “culture of men who thought they could do what they want,” said the whistleblower.
What were the previous scandals about?
Last month, Brittany Higgins, a former government employee, publicly stated that she was raped in 2019 by a colleague in a minister’s parliamentary office. She said she did not go to the police for fear of losing her job.
Earlier this month, Attorney General Christian Porter refused to resign on allegations he raped a 16-year-old girl in 1988 when they were both students.
Morrison stood by Porter and declined calls to suspend him. He said Porter “vigorously denied” the allegations. The applicant has since died and the police have ruled out charges.
Tens of thousands of women took part in rallies called # March4Justice this month to protest sexual violence and gender inequality, calling for systemic change in politics and Australian society.
Parliament’s “toxic” workplace culture
The prime minister said “a very traumatic month” had passed since Higgins publicized her allegations and acknowledged growing dissatisfaction with his administration’s response.
“I admit that a lot of Australians, especially women, believe I haven’t heard them and that worries me very much,” Morrison said at a press conference in Canberra. “We have to do better … we have to fix this house.”
The employee’s rape allegations prompted Morrison to order a workplace culture review in the House of Parliament, which was repeatedly criticized as “toxic” and contributed to the bullying, harassment and sexual assault of women.
The investigation, led by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, will close in November.
Morrison said he expects mandatory harassment and wrongdoing training and a “more robust and independent” grievance mechanism for employees who are sexually harassed to be put in place in the House of Parliament.
He was also open to his conservative Liberal Party, which introduced a minimum quota of female candidates for elections, which conservative coalition parties had previously rejected.
adi / rt (AFP, AP, Reuters)