Prime Minister Scott Morrison is under pressure to stop sidestepping the issue and do more.
When the global #MeToo Movement was gaining momentum in 2018, there were concerns that Australia’s strict defamation laws were stopping victims of sexual assault from coming forward.
From the way the news media organisations covered the stories of the women to the government response, experts found a lot was lacking.
But in recent weeks, a wave of sexual assault allegations and a renewed push by women rights activists have reignited the debate around how powerful men in the country can easily get away with committing crimes.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has been rocked by multiple harassment accusations against officials and lawmakers who have abused female staffers.
It all started after Brittany Higgins, a former government staffer, broke her silence in February to relay how a colleague raped her in the office of the defence minister in 2019.
Since then, other women have stepped forward with details that point to a culture of workplace abuse and harassment involving government officials.
The most recent scandal involves a leaked video of a government staff member masturbating at the desk of a female MP in the parliament building. That staffer who filmed himself has been fired while a few others are under investigation for passing around lewd pictures among themselves.
Morrison said the videos were “disgusting and sickening” but the center-right Liberal Party leader will have to do much more to convince the public that he’s doing everything in his power to root out a culture of misogyny.
The Australian PM made matters worse when commenting on the Higgins case - he said that he was inclined to take it seriously after his wife asked him to look at it as if he was dealing with his own daughters.
Women rights activists were shocked and said a woman who has been a victim of sexual assault does not need to be someone’s daughter to draw empathy.
He’s also under pressure to take stricter action against government officials who face sexual assault allegations.
Australia’s Attorney General Christian Porter has gone on medical leave after reports emerged that he allegedly raped a 16-year-old girl in 1988 when both of them were teenagers and attending a debate competition.
Porter, who had previously faced criticism for having an affair with a female staffer, has denied the allegation and the woman who accused him committed suicide last year. Police have closed that case for lack of evidence and Morrison has resisted calls to order a fresh enquiry.
Fresh allegations and controversies surrounding the ruling party have come out in rapid succession.
Earlier this month, Julie Bishop, the former foreign minister, said that a group of MPs, who she identified as ‘big swinging di**s’, tried to undermine her career.
“Nobody self-identified to me, thank goodness for that. But if they were seeking to block my aspirations, well, they didn’t succeed because my ambition was to be the foreign minister of Australia, and I’m very proud to say that I served in that role for five years,” she said in an interview.
Comments by a Liberal senator Eric Abetz who suggested Higgins was a threat to national security because she entered the building drunk have raised a further crisis for the government.
Here’s Speaker Sue Hickey’s full statement on Senator Eric Abetz’s alleged comments #politas #auspol pic.twitter.com/dwLqavxYT1— Emily Baker (@emlybkr) March 23, 2021
Abetz denies he said anything like that.
But MP Sue Hickey has told State Parliament in a statement that Abetz said, “As for that Higgins girl, anybody who is so disgustingly drunk, who would sleep with anybody, could have slept with one of our spies and put the security of our nation at risk.”
Indigenous Senator Lidia Thorpe has also said that she has been sexually harassed by four male politicians since she took office just six months ago.
All these developments have raised concern that the Australian government is continually ignoring a wide-spread culture of misogyny in the corridors of power.