Everything Since Brittany Higgins

As a professional news follower, I was genuinely surprised to be losing track of all the revelations about sexism in the Liberal-National Party. Since 15 February, when Brittany Higgins broke the culture of silence by accusing a former co-worker of raping her in the ministerial wing of Parliament House in 2019, there has been a torrent of allegations, mainly originating with women working inside the party. 

First there was Higgins, and then growing evidence of a widespread cover-up of the rape by the party. Those who knew and did nothing included Linda Reynolds, Peter Dutton, Michaelia Cash, Tony Smith, Scott Ryan and the Prime Minister’s office, though Morrison implausibly claims to have been unaware.

As is well known, Attorney-General Christian Porter has been accused of a rape, after reports late last year of his blatant misogyny: that his “persona…was the sidelining of women in any kind of forum in which they wanted to be involved”. He and Lynda Reynolds are both currently on “medical leave.”

Under the radar of these headline cases were some disturbing stories about MP Craig Kelly, who moved to the cross-bench in February “with the heaviest of hearts,” in his words, so as to keep himself from further embarrassing the Liberals and Scott Morrison. 

The allegations relating to Kelly centre on his office manager and close associate Frank Zumbo, who at the time lectured at UNSW’s business school. A former intern, Anna Hobson, told the 7.30 Report that Kelly’s electoral office in Sutherland was basically “just Frank and Craig” along with several school-age female interns.

“Often there were as many girls in school uniforms [as] there were people in office clothing,” said Ms Hobson. Frank “set the culture,” according to Ms Hobson. “You’d always have to hug him and give him a kiss on the cheek when you came and when you left,” Ms Hobson said.

There are six formal complaints currently before police about Mr Zumbo, including one from a 16 year-old. When questioned by the 7.30 Report, Kelly claimed all the allegations were untrue.

Craig Kelly’s office in the Sutherland Shire.

Then last week, Tasmanian state Liberal representative Sue Hickey resigned from the party, alleging that Tasmania’s lead federal senator, Eric Abetz, said, “As for that Higgins girl, anybody so disgustingly drunk who would sleep with anybody could have slept with one of our spies and put the security of the nation at risk.” It’s hard to imagine a more blatant example of victim-blaming and gendered double-standards.

Then there is Queensland federal MP Andrew Laming. He is widely reported to have engaged in “trolling,” and some media have reported derisively on the “behaviour training” he agreed to.

In fact, Laming stalked a woman, Sheena Hewlett, the wife of a local councillor in Laming’s electorate, and took photos of her in a public park from the bushes. Complaints have been made about Laming to the Liberal Party since Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership. 

Laming also took a photo of another woman up her skirt. When challenged about it, he said, “I thought it was funny, but your reaction was awkward.” Laming later posted on Facebook about his apology that he “didn’t even know what for,” but did so willingly “in this climate.”

Then on Monday, Nationals MP Anne Webster lodged a sexual harassment complaint against a party colleague. Details have not yet been made public.

Dr Webster, who holds a Ph.D. in social work, said, “It’s time for cultural change. It is quite clear. Australian women are fed up.”

Follow Christian on Twitter for more news updates.

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