Dozens of Parliament House staffers are planning to go on strike on Tuesday morning to protest against how sexual assault and misconduct is treated in federal politics.
It comes as yet another scandal puts Prime Minister Scott Morrison under pressure to take urgent action on cascading issues inside his party.
A Channel 10 report on Monday alleged Coalition staffers took photos of their genitalia inside the Parliament offices of their politician bosses, as well as airing claims that staffers regularly brought sex workers inside the building for their MPs.
One employee reportedly captured himself committing a solo sex act on the desk of the female politician he worked for, sending it to a Facebook Messenger group of other staffers.
“I honestly have no words,” said Labor’s Tanya Plibersek, in reaction.
Mr Morrison called the reports “disgusting and sickening”.
“It’s not good enough, and is totally unacceptable,” he said.
The person who allegedly committed that lewd act was sacked moments after the Channel 10 report aired, the PM said.
“The actions of these individuals show a staggering disrespect for the people who work in Parliament, and for the ideals the Parliament is supposed to represent,” he added, saying he “would have more to say” this week.
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, whose department has charge over the employment of Parliamentary staffers, said he was “disgusted and appalled” by the reported actions of his Coalition colleagues.
“It shows a complete disregard for all that our parliamentary democracy stands for … a complete contempt, frankly, for the Australian taxpayers who pay the wages of such staff,” Senator Birmingham said.
He said any staffer involved should “pack their bags and leave the building for good”, and “should think about apologising … to the Australian public”.
Staffer strike brewing
The New Daily understands a group of staffers plans to go on ‘strike’ on Tuesday morning, in response to the latest allegations of sexual misconduct inside the walls of their Parliament House workplace.
Calls have gone out on private Facebook groups for female staffers to “occupy” the prayer room inside Parliament – a room which, according to the news report, has been used by MPs and staff for sex.
“Staff are sick of being silenced by this oppressive building,” one staffer told TND.
TND has spoken to dozens of staffers – women and men – in recent weeks, who have expressed seething anger in how the government and Opposition have responded to the scandals, and their fears of not being safe at work.
Tuesday’s strike action is in response generally to the series of growing issues inside federal politics, but the Channel 10 story was said to be “the last straw”.
Ms Plibersek, speaking to the ABC’s 7.30 program, called the latest reports “revolting”.
“Obviously anybody who has behaved in that way shouldn’t be working in Parliament House,” she said.
“But the bigger question is, how do we make sure that this is not just a 24-hour political problem managed away by the government? But that real action is taken to provide a safe workplace for women that work in Parliament House.”
Gaetjens review ‘paused’
Earlier on Monday, Mr Morrison stoked further anger when it was revealed that his department secretary, Phil Gaetjens, had quietly shelved his internal review into what the PM’s office knew about the incident reported by another former Coalition staffer, Brittany Higgins.
It was also revealed by Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet officials that Mr Morrison had not sought a formal briefing from the department on the rape allegations raised by Ms Higgins – despite the alleged incident occurring just metres from his office.
On Monday, ABC’s Four Corners aired a story with a Parliament House security guard who said she found Ms Higgins inside the office of Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, the morning after the alleged rape.
The guard, Nikola Anderson, claimed Mr Morrison had been given “false information” about the circumstances surrounding that night, claiming there was no “security breach”, as had initially been claimed.
Following intense scrutiny last month, Mr Morrison asked Mr Gaetjens – his former chief of staff – to conduct an internal inquiry.
But Mr Gaetjens made the bombshell revelation on Monday morning that he had put a “pause” on the review on March 9, a fact neither he nor the Prime Minister mentioned publicly.
— Tegan George (@tegangeorge) March 22, 2021
Labor was outraged that Mr Morrison was specifically asked about Mr Gaetjens’ investigations in Parliament’s Question Time last Thursday, and did not admit it was stalled.
On Tuesday, further Senate hearings will grill officials from the departments of Finance and Attorney-General, where both will face questioning on mounting sexual allegations inside federal politics.
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