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Australian PM 'disgusted' over parliament sex scandal, vows to act

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By Josephine Joly
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a press conference at Australia's Parliament House in Canberra on March 22, 2020.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a press conference at Australia's Parliament House in Canberra on March 22, 2020.   -   Copyright  DAVID GRAY / AFP

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison publicly acknowledged on Tuesday the growing anger with his handling of the scandal over the treatment of women in politics, after an anonymous whistleblower leaked images and videos of sex acts performed in Parliament.

Morrison has spoken of his “disgust” and vowed to act just hours after the Australian newspaper and Channel 10 revealed photos and videos of several male government staffers performing sex acts on the desks of female lawmakers.

The whistleblower told the news outlets that government staff used the parliament's prayer room to have sex, and that sex workers had been brought into the building.

The videos and images were shared on a Facebook group chat, where staffers exchanged explicit photos of themselves on a daily routine.

The Prime Minister has referred to the group chat at the center of the scandal as "absolutely shameful”, saying he "was completely stunned."

He has called for an increase in the number of women joining politics after the latest revelations have rocked Australia's political scene.

"I've done many things to get more women in this place and I intend to do more," Morrison said, referring to Parliament House. He admitted his party must "do better".

One government staff member has been removed from his position following the allegations, and further action has been promised by the government.

A ruling coalition under sustained pressure

In recent weeks, the ruling Liberal-National coalition has come under constant pressure, as last February former political adviser Brittany Higgins claimed that she was raped by a senior colleague in a minister's office in 2019. Higgins said she did not go to the police for fear of losing her job.

"This is a realistic fear as they can be sacked at any time if they have lost the confidence of their MP or senator," Maria Maley, senior lecturer in politics at the Australian National University, told Euronews.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Christian Porter came forward as the cabinet minister at the centre of a rape accusation on a 16-year-old girl in 1988.

He refused to resign and denied the allegations made against him. Morrison stood by Porter and rejected calls to suspend him.

Australia's PM struggling to address the issue in a "convincing or authentic way"

Morrison has been strongly criticised for his handling of the matter, with thousands calling out misogyny and dangerous workplace cultures.

Dr Maria Maley said that Morrison is "repeatedly misreading the situation" and "having to then retract some of his comments and apologise."

"At a press conference on Tuesday he lashed out at the media and claimed there was a sexual harassment case against a journalist – this was false, and he had to apologise again," Maley added.

Morrison was also criticised for not coming out of his office to meet the women who had gathered at Parliament House in Canberra to protest against gender violence on March 15.

"This could affect his chances of re-election, as it may undermine his image as someone supremely confident and in control. Voters have long suspected he lacked substance, and this is exposing this," Maria Maley said.

The inquiry by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner into the culture of Parliament and staff misconduct is believed to bring many more revelations to light.

Australia has a very large number of political staffers compared to other countries, with more than 600 just in Parliament House.

"Many of them are young and inexperienced, they are not recruited on merit but often due to political networks and patronage. Their names are kept secret from the public and they are subject to few controls and no scrutiny," Maley revealed.

Proposals to make training about sexual harassment compulsory for all staff and MPs have been made, as in the past they have not attended the training provided.