Rape scandal at the heart of Australia’s parliament leaves PM exposed | Australia news

Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, prides himself on his potential to form media narratives. A former promoting government, he’s used to controlling the message. However over the previous two weeks one story has refused to bend to his will and exposed a weak spot: ladies.

Morrison is struggling to handle rising anger over the dealing with of a younger staffer’s rape allegation, the parliamentary tradition at massive, and the way ladies working inside it are handled.

He has been unable to direct consideration away from the points raised by Brittany Higgins, a former media adviser who alleged she was raped by a colleague in a ministerial workplace in March 2019.

Initially the matter was dealt with internally, with Higgins provided help, but additionally made conscious that an election was looming simply weeks away.


The then-24-year-old, who had been made to inform her story to her minister in the identical room the place the alleged rape occurred, stated she felt she was being made to decide on between her “dream job” and reporting the matter to police.

Brittany Higgins outside the ministerial entrance to Parliament House in Canberra
Brittany Higgins outdoors the ministerial entrance to Parliament Home in Canberra {Photograph}: Provided

She stayed with the authorities, however continued to wrestle with what had occurred.

Two years later, a photograph of the prime minister with Grace Tame, a fearless advocate for sexual assault victims, proved an excessive amount of for Higgins, who stated she felt she had been “silenced” by the authorities.

She resigned, spoke to the Australian Federal Police about the chance of re-opening her case and went public, sparking a firestorm for the Morrison authorities, which has struggled to search out an enough response.

Almost two weeks after Higgins went public, the authorities, and Morrison specifically, are nonetheless flailing.

What the prime minister didn’t know

Who knew what and when has dogged the authorities since Higgins went public.

Why the prime minister didn’t know, and why nobody thought to inform him, has proved one of the most damaging hurdles for Morrison to navigate. Morrison has insisted his workplace was not conscious of the allegations till 12 February, three days earlier than the story went public and he himself was made conscious when it was first printed by News Corp on 15 February.

However a rising quantity of individuals who work in the prime minister’s inside sanctum have been revealed as being conscious of the allegations, as a consequence of their earlier roles inside the authorities.

There’s the defence minister’s chief of employees, who was one of the first folks Higgins informed, after she was questioned over being discovered by safety, half-naked, on minister Linda Reynold’s workplace sofa.

The staffer who labored with the former particular minister of state whose job it was to deal with termination payouts.

The man colleague who informed Higgins that they had raised the matter with a staffer in the prime minister’s workplace who was “mortified” and needed to assist.

With every passing day got here new revelations of somebody who knew one thing, whereas the prime minister maintained he discovered of Higgins’ story at the identical time the nation did.


It’s meant the usually-media-savvy prime minister, recognized for dismissing questions as “coming from the Canberra bubble” has been unable to search out his footing in coping with the fallout. An instantaneous try at deflecting questions by claiming the matter was topic to a police investigation was shortly dismissed by the police themselves who confirmed it was not. Strikes to keep away from questions to guard Higgins’s privateness have been batted away by the girl herself, who continued to talk and publicly waived any considerations ministers might have about talking about her case.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference to answer sexual assault allegations made by staffer Brittany Higgins against a parliamentary staffer
Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press convention to reply sexual assault allegations made by staffer Brittany Higgins towards a parliamentary staffer {Photograph}: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Morrison’s ‘daggy dad’ persona

Morrison’s fall-back political transfer, that of the common husband and father, which has been termed his “daggy dad” persona, additionally fell flat when he stated he had spoken to his spouse Jenny who “clarified” the subject for him, and urged him to consider his personal daughters in Higgins’s place. Different clumsy feedback, together with that Higgins had “discovered herself” in the scenario drew instant censure; Higgins accused Morrison of partaking in “victim-blaming rhetoric”, and took again management of the narrative, casting the prime minister as a reactionary participant.

His response, to launch 4 inquiries into the tradition of parliamentary life, the complaints course of for staffers, and what his workplace knew and when, has additionally been criticised, with all 4 being carried out by authorities members or staffers, resulting in a promise of an “arm’s size” method. However there was no dedication to launch all the stories, and cupboard protocols have already been invoked, which means it will likely be as much as the authorities what data is launched, with no recourse for public overview.

A speech he gave for an Worldwide Girls’s Day occasion tried to calm the whirling storm, with Morrison mentioning “respect” 42 occasions in his quick tackle, and a promise to “respect, shield, and replicate” ladies with out offering options or recognition of the structural energy points ladies had raised over the previous fortnight.

Parliament House in Canberra
Parliament Home in Canberra has been at the centre of rape allegations. {Photograph}: Lukas Coch/EPA

Parliament ended with authorities MPs and the prime minister pleased to have the ability to go away what had change into a strain cooker, the place the Australian vaccine rollout took second place to tales of a company tradition seemingly a long time behind public expectations, and a authorities struggling to offer solutions.

Higgins has since reopened her police case. However as she stated final week, she is on the lookout for wider reforms.

“From the outset, I’ve been pushed by my need to make sure that no different particular person must undergo the trauma that I skilled throughout my time in Parliament Home,” she stated.

“I used to be failed repeatedly, however I now have my voice, and I’m decided to make use of it to make sure that that is by no means allowed to occur to a different member of employees once more.”

With extra ladies including their very own voices, the prime minister has struggled to provide voice to the proper phrases to calm theirs, making certain the requires change develop louder.

A contemporary allegation on Friday night time – this time towards a cupboard minister who has been accused of a historic rape greater than three a long time in the past – means strain on the PM to behave will solely intensify.

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