In a typical Liberal Party blame game act, the week in Canberra saw a political firestorm, as allegations and accusations were on the centre stage, engulfing Australian politics in controversy. The spotlight was firmly focused upon Senator Katy Gallagher, who was facing allegations from the Liberal Party and the mainstream media of misleading parliament during a Senate hearings exchange that occurred back in June 2021. But the blame game has backfired.
This contentious exchange, which unfolded in the wake of the Brittany Higgins sexual assault allegations, sparked outrage in the media and ignited a fierce debate within the Australian political landscape. But by week’s end, the tables had turned, and all the focus was back onto the Liberal Party, over sexual assault allegations from one of their own Senators.
The core of the initial controversy revolves around a series of exchanges between Senator Gallagher and Senator Linda Reynolds during a Senate hearing. The focus has zeroed in on Gallagher’s statement of “no one had any knowledge,” which has triggered a vehement response from the Liberal Party, the mainstream media, and even calls for resignations.
The allegations stem from the question of who had prior knowledge of Brittany Higgins’ assault allegations before they became public in 2021. What initially appeared to be an innocuous exchange during the Senate hearing snowballed into a national calamity, with critics accusing the Liberal Party of exploiting the incident to create a major scandal and deflect attention from their own shortcomings.
The Liberal Party has a track record of magnifying minor incidents into major scandals and skillfully deflecting blame onto others, a tactic which has yielded considerable success for them in the past. However, this time, their strategy has backfired, and the fallout from the controversy could have unforeseen consequences.
The media blames women, as it always does
Beyond the political storm, what has been forgotten is the person the heart of this issue—Brittany Higgins, a woman who endured a terrible sexual assault and was let down by those entrusted with her protection. It also questions the priorities of those involved in the blame game—the Liberal Party and the right-wing mainstream media—when the focus should have been on justice for the victim and accountability for the perpetrator, instead of base political point-scoring.
The mainstream media should be criticised for perpetuating the narrative manufactured by the Liberal Party and failing to provide unbiased coverage and fair reporting. The lack of proper investigative journalism on this issue and the absence of larger media outlets fulfilling their role in holding politicians accountable is lamentable.
Amidst this political firestorm, voices of support for Senator Gallagher have emerged, including independent MP Zali Steggall, who questioned the motivations behind the attack on Gallagher and highlighted the poor behaviour of Peter Dutton and the mistreatment of Brittany Higgins.
There needs to be a comprehensive examination of this issue, free from partisan biases. No one should be above the law or immune from proper parliamentary procedure, but it’s impossible to achieve true accountability in the absence of a responsible and ethical mainstream media.
The Liberal Party blame game scores an own goal
As if one controversy wasn’t enough, the Australian political landscape was rocked by new allegations, this time involving Liberal Party Senator David Van. Concerns about inappropriate behaviour within Parliament rose, as Senator Lidia Thorpe made allegations of a sexual assault by Senator Van, sparking calls for a thorough investigation into the matter.
Senator Van, known for his history of controversial behaviour, including making growling and dog noises directed at Senators Hanson-Young and Jacqui Lambie, now faces serious accusations that demand thorough scrutiny and investigation.
Former Liberal Party Senator Amanda Stoker has also come forward with allegations of inappropriate touching by Senator Van, incidents that reportedly occurred in 2020. These accounts shed light on a pattern of concerning behaviour exhibited by Senator Van, leading to his expulsion from the Liberal Party room, and subsequent resignation from the party.
Aside from the racial undertones of these events—Senator Thorpe, an Indigenous woman, was ridiculed and pilloried by the media for making “unfounded allegations”, but it was only after Stoker made her own allegations against Van that Thorpe was believed—the gravity of these allegations necessitates a comprehensive investigation to uncover the truth and ensure that appropriate consequences are imposed if Senator Van is found guilty.
The incidents serve as a stark reminder that harassment and mistreatment of women have no place in society or within the halls of power. Female politicians, irrespective of which side of politics they arrive from—Lidia Thorpe, Pauline Hanson, Katy Gallagher, Michaelia Cash, Sussan Ley, and all others—deserve to fulfill their duties without fear of sexual harassment or discrimination. Their ideas and contributions should be evaluated on their merit—or lack of merit—rather than overshadowed by sexist behaviour.
The public deserves better
The revelations surrounding Senator Van’s conduct and the subsequent calls for investigation underscore the urgent need for cultural and systemic changes within Australian politics. These changes should guarantee the safety, respect, and fair treatment of all individuals within the political sphere, regardless of gender.
It is crucial to create an environment where inappropriate behaviour and actions are not tolerated and where politicians can focus on serving the interests of the public rather than dealing with internal misconduct.
The impact of these allegations on Senator Van’s political career remains to be seen, and he is set to take leave from Parliament for an undisclosed period of time. However, the continued exposure of such incidents serves as a reminder that the issue of harassment and misconduct within Parliament requires a comprehensive and lasting solution.
The Australian public expects its elected representatives to uphold the highest standards of behaviour and accountability, making it crucial to take steps to restore trust and ensure a more respectful and inclusive political landscape.