News Julie Bishop surprised neither Scott Morrison nor Christian Porter read anonymous letter

Julie Bishop surprised neither Scott Morrison nor Christian Porter read anonymous letter

Julie Bishop told 7.30 on Monday night attitudes towards women and the handling of complaints must change. Photo: ABC/7.30
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Former foreign minister Julie Bishop says she was surprised neither Prime Minister Scott Morrison nor Attorney-General Christian Porter had read the anonymous letter containing details of the historical rape allegations denied by Mr Porter.

The anonymous letter was sent to a number of politicians, including the Prime Minister’s office. Both men said they had not read it.

“I wonder why they haven’t,” Ms Bishop told 7.30.

“I think in order to deny allegations you would need to know the substance of the allegations, or at least the detail of the allegations.”

Ms Bishop said she was aware the South Australian coroner was considering an inquest into the woman’s death and said that was the “next logical step, if there is to be further scrutiny of this matter”.

Ms Bishop said she was also “surprised that no one thought to inform the Prime Minister” about the Brittany Higgins case.

“In my experience, an allegation of that nature, a serious, indictable offence, would be brought to the attention of the Prime Minister immediately.

“It’s the kind of information that prime ministers, in my experience, want to know about.”

Last month, Ms Higgins publicly alleged she was raped in Parliament House by a former Liberal staffer.

“As somebody who has employed many people over many, many years, if someone had come to me with an allegation that a rape occurred, as it turned out in my office, but in the workplace, for which I’m responsible, I would have felt a duty not only to that person, but to others in the workplace to inform the police,” she said.

‘A very unusual workplace’

julie bishop
Julie Bishop told 7.30 the culture in Parliament House needed to change. Photo: AAP

Ms Bishop told 7.30 the culture in Parliament House needed to change, particularly when it came to attitudes towards women and the handling of complaints.

“If the events of the last few weeks haven’t led political parties to embrace change, I don’t know what has to happen,” she said.

“A culture has developed over many years. I think it’s embedded in Parliament because the environment, the conventions, the protocols, were all established at a time when there were no women in Parliament or very few women in Parliament.”

She said that as it was up to Parliament to “make the laws that we impose on workplaces around the country, Parliament House should be the exemplar, the gold standard, the place where people can see how best practice in workplaces should be carried out”.

Ms Bishop said there was a culture within all political parties to ensure that no individual does anything that would damage the party’s image or its reputation, particularly at election time.

“It can mean that a culture develops whereby those who are prone to inappropriate or unprofessional, or even illegal behaviour, get a sense of protection.

“They know that people aren’t going to complain because that will damage the party or damage the party’s prospects. And this is across Parliament,” she said.

“It makes it a very unusual workplace in that regard. But also we don’t have the structures in place to counter that.

“I think we need some basic and fundamental structural change within Parliament – induction programs, proper formalised training programs, and an independent complaints system so that people feel protected and secure if they do make a complaint.”

‘They failed’

Former Liberal minister Sharman Stone recently said a group of male politicians who called themselves the “swinging dicks” had sought to block Ms Bishop’s career aspirations.

Asked if she was aware of the group, Ms Bishop told 7.30: “I believe it was ‘big swinging dicks’. So there was obviously an overexcited imagination on the part of some, I would suggest.

“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.

“And likewise I was deputy leader of the party for 11 years. So if their ambition was to thwart my aspirations, then they failed.”