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Australian Lawmaker Accused Of Sexual Assault, Suspended

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Australian Lawmaker Accused Of Sexual Assault, Suspended

Van describes allegations as “scandalous” and “concocted”. (File)

Sydney:

An Australian lawmaker was suspended by his party Thursday after a fellow senator accused him of sexual assault in Parliament House and declared it was “not a safe place” for women to work.

Senator David Van, of the opposition Liberal Party, strenuously denied the claims, describing them as “scandalous”.

But Liberal Party leader Peter Dutton suspended Van, stating that “further allegations” had been raised against him.

Later Thursday, a former Liberal Party senator accused Van of “squeezing my bottom twice” in 2020, telling local media the incident occurred at an office party.

In a tearful Senate address earlier, independent senator Lidia Thorpe said she had been subjected to “sexual comments”, cornered in a stairwell, “inappropriately touched” and “propositioned” by “powerful men”.

Parliament, she said, “is not a safe place for women”.

Thorpe’s allegations have rekindled accusations that Australia’s crucible of democracy is also a bastion of sexism and misogyny.

Thorpe on Wednesday had initially accused Van of “sexually assaulting” her, before being forced to withdraw the remark under threat of parliamentary sanction.

But on Thursday, Thorpe restated the core of her allegations against Van.

In an address to the Senate, Thorpe acknowledged that “sexual assault” meant different things to different people, and went on to describe her experiences in the corridors of power.

“What I experienced was being followed, aggressively propositioned and inappropriately touched,” she said.

In 2021, Van was forced to move his parliamentary office away from Thorpe’s after an unspecified complaint, both senators have acknowledged.

Thorpe told fellow lawmakers she “was afraid to walk out of the office door. I would open the door slightly and check the coast was clear before stepping out”.

“It was to the degree that I had to be accompanied by someone whenever I walked inside this building,” she added.

“I know there are others that have experienced similar things and have not come forward in the interests of their careers.”

While the allegations were protected from Australia’s severe defamation laws by parliamentary privilege, Thorpe said that Van had engaged lawyers in the matter.

Van responded in parliament, describing the allegations as “scandalous” and “concocted” before calling for an investigation.

Van accused Thorpe of “bringing the Senate into disrepute” and “cowering under the umbrella of parliamentary privilege”.

Later Thursday, former senator Amanda Stoker, from Van’s party, came forward to accuse him of “squeezing my bottom twice” at a party.

In a statement to local media, she said the incident occurred at an “informal social gathering in a parliamentary office” in 2020.

Van’s removal from the Liberal Party’s parliamentary caucus does not mean he is kicked out of parliament. He will remain effectively as an independent.

– Widespread sexual harassment –

Since 2021, Australian politics has been roiled by high-profile allegations of assault and harassment inside parliament.

Former political aide Brittany Higgins alleged that a fellow conservative staffer raped her on a couch in a cabinet minister’s parliamentary office following a night of heavy drinking in March 2019.

Five separate investigations followed, collectively delivering a scathing indictment on the frequently sexist nature of Australian politics.

One government-backed inquiry found that sexual harassment and bullying were widespread in parliament, affecting both lawmakers and staff.

One in three people working in parliament at the time said they “have experienced some form of sexual harassment while working there”.

That included 63 percent of the country’s female parliamentarians.

The Higgins case sparked national protests and a high-profile court case that ended in a mistrial.

It was not retried because prosecutors feared the strain it would put on Higgins’s mental health.

The man in question has sued multiple journalists for reporting on the allegations and threatened to sue his accuser.

He has denied the allegations, and in court pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexual intercourse without consent.

The controversy has reignited in recent weeks, after opposition conservatives leapt on a series of leaked text messages to accuse the now centre-left government of politicising the issue.

 

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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