Monday, 22 February 2021
Questions without Notice
Members of Parliament: Staff
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Birmingham. I refer to reports that at least four women have come forward with allegations of alleged sexual assault, harassment and rape by the same former staff member. One former Liberal staffer who alleges she was raped has said, 'If this had been properly dealt with by the government in 2019, this would not have happened to me.' Did any member of the ministry or their staff have knowledge of this alleged sexual assault prior to the public report?
The third woman, who was a volunteer for the coalition in the 2016 election campaign, says she was barely out of school when she was allegedly sexually assaulted by the former staff member, who was working in a minister's office at the time. Did any member of the ministry or their staff have knowledge of this alleged sexual assault prior to this public report?
Again, not to my knowledge, and I have no reason to believe that would be the case. If there is anything that changes that, I will let you know, Senator Sheldon. Obviously, all of these allegations are incredibly traumatic and distressing, and underpin the crucial work that needs to be undertaken to give all women, all people, confidence in relation to the processes and procedures that are there to enable and to support them to report such instances, such that perpetrators and offenders can be brought to justice. As I've said in this chamber already, the government will give full cooperation to the AFP as they work with Ms Higgins, as she has publicly indicated, as I would expect us to do in any and all circumstances of such terrible matters.
I can. Ms Potter's story was well publicised in The Sydney Morning Herald in July 2019, I think. I first became aware of Chelsey's claims after my office was approached by journalists from The Sydney Morning Herald shortly before publication. In between being contacted by the journalist and publication, Chelsey sent me a text message to ask if I would like to catch up for a beer with her. I was unable to at the time, but I replied, indicating that I was aware of the conversation she was having with the media, encouraging her to seek independent and professional assistance. I suggested organisations such as 1800RESPECT or the South Australian Women's Information Service as appropriate avenues. In relation to Chelsey and, indeed, others, I've indicated that, through the process this parliament I hope will undertake, we can, I hope, engage with them such that they can feel that that process helps to address the matters of concern they rightly have from their past experiences and that we can all have an improved understanding of how to prevent these issues and better respond to them in the future.