Claims of sexual assault shed light on Australia’s masculine politics 2023

As sexual assault charges resurface, a key politician told AFP that Australia’s parliament had fostered a sexist society.

In late 2021, a damning assessment revealed Parliament House riddled with excessive drinking, bullying, and sexual harassment, highlighting Australian politicians’ masculine mentality.

After a Republican senator was accused of sexual assault, the country is grappling with political class behavior again.

Zali Steggall, an independent lawmaker, said parliamentarians faced “horrific” harassment and sexual assault.

“The Australian parliament culture has been exposed in the last few years, and still has a long way to go,” she told AFP.

“It’s patriarchal.”

Lidia Thorpe’s speech to the Senate on Wednesday evening caught the nation’s attention.

In 2021, Thorpe accused fellow senator David Van of sexually abusing her and that she was propositioned by “powerful men”.

Conservative senator Amanda Stoker accused Van of grabbing her at a Parliament House reception on Thursday.

Van, a former PR consultant, denies the charges, calling them “scandalous,” “concocted,” and “utterly untrue.”

Australia’s two major parties spent last week throwing dirt at one other over the handling of Brittany Higgins’ 2021 rape accusation.

Higgins’ private text conversations were released to media, reviving the accusations from last year’s mistrial.

Steggall, who earned a bronze medal in slalom skiing at the 1998 Winter Olympics, called political use of rape claims “harmful and destructive.”

She said lawmakers had a dismal, sad week. “It set us back as a workplace.”

Marian Sawer, a political scientist, said sexual harassment in Australia’s parliament was comparable to that in Westminster-style democracies like the UK and New Zealand.

“Aggressive conduct” may be normalized in such countries’ politics

In November 2021, a comprehensive assessment concluded that one in three Parliament House employees had experienced sexual harassment.

The Australian Human Rights Commission determined that rampant drinking and a laddish attitude permeated the facility.

“I do often describe Parliament House as the most sexist place I’ve worked,” a responder told the writers.

Blair Williams, a gender politics researcher, said addressing sexism would be hard.

“It’s hard to fix a huge problem, a longstanding problem, with one or two fixes,” she told AFP.

“We are still hearing these accounts of sexual harassment and assault happening in the halls of power,” she said.

30 years after a similar “reckoning” reshaped Australia’s economic sector, Williams argued parliament was out of touch.

Australia’s only female prime leader, Julia Gillard, was constantly sexistly criticized between 2010 and 2013.

Australia has added women to parliament more slowly than other nations.

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Australia had the 15th most women in parliament in 1999.

By 2022, it was 57th.

Williams stated this was an easy start.

“I think the culture would be better with more women in parliament.”

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