Tawdry times, shameful acts

It’s been a tawdry few weeks in Federal politics, which is not new, except that it’s now reached a new low.

It all started a few weeks ago when an ex-Lib staffer came forward to reveal that a few years back, she’d been raped in a minister’s office after hours by a senior adviser. At the time, it was effectively hushed up, with few of the proper protocols followed, and the victim basically told they had a choice between keeping their job and making a police report. The alleged perpetrator was fired (with references!) – not because he had raped a colleague, but because he had contravened security protocols.

In the days after, as the PM and various ministers tried to obfuscate and deflect, more women came forward to report that they also had been raped or sexually harassed in parliamentary offices, all of them on the Lib side of the chamber. To make it worse, the alleged perpetrator in several cases was the same man as in the original report. Basically, he got away with it scot-free because various ministers failed to take responsibility and do the right thing.

It’s obvious, and hardly a surprise, that their first priority was the political – containing and managing any potential fall-out. Any consideration of the victim’s welfare came a distant second.

Then, over the weekend, another allegation came to light – the most serious and shocking of all.

It was alleged that a current federal minister had anally raped a 16-year-old girl back in 1988. The alleged victim had gone to the NSW police more recently to report it after harbouring the pain for many years since. All of it was scrupulously documented, including contemporaneous diaries, much of which has now been shared with police, the prime minister, and selected politicians from all sides.

By all reports, the victim was a precociously talented girl with great things ahead of her. Her friends say that she was an extraordinary woman, but she couldn’t get over the trauma of her rape. She tried to fight back by bringing these allegations to the police’s attention, but it seemed too much for her in the end. Last year she took her own life. This is the awful outcome of a heinous act – a life blighted by the cruelty of another, her days haunted by what had occurred on that day in 1988. Ultimately, her promise never blossomed, and her life cut short. If these allegations are to be believed, then really what we’re looking at is a charge of rape and, effectively, long-delayed manslaughter.

In a bitter twist, her death means that the police can no longer investigate it. It seems a curious outcome – surely, criminal acts should be fully investigated whether the victim is alive or dead? The justification is that cases of this type rely almost entirely on the testimony of the victim. Without her, the investigation fails.

That’s what the government is counting on. Everyone knows, or think they know, which of the cabinet ministers allegedly committed this crime. He has not been named publicly, though it seems inevitable that he will be. In the meantime, the government and the PM do as they always do – they deflect and deny, and they obfuscate. Once more, political expediency comes first.

It’s a shocking situation and a shocking story. It’s been a shocking few weeks of ugly revelations that have brought politics in general, and the government, and – it has to be said – men in general, into disrepute.

We now have a situation where a federal minister is sitting in parliament, representing us, who is an alleged rapist. How that can be allowed to continue is beyond my understanding. Until he’s named, every male minister is impugned. I would think it represents a security risk, at least, never mind the moral impropriety. Even if completely innocent of these charges, he should stand aside, or made to stand aside, until these allegations are investigated.

I think it must come to that, but the government is doing everything it can to forestall such a reckoning. When asked about it, they say it’s a matter for the police, knowing full well the police can do nothing. In their corrupted mentality, that’s the end of it – though perhaps we should be reassured when the PM tells us the suspect has denied it all?

Many are calling for a coronial inquiry, and that seems the fitting step. As they say, justice must be seen to be done. This can’t be brushed under the carpet. We can’t have an elected official in high office guilty of such a terrible crime – the very thought that we can exposes the moral bankruptcy of this government. Guilty or innocent, it can’t be left unresolved.

I don’t know if the government understand the damage they do by refusing to acknowledge and act. It’s no surprise to me, though it may be too many others, that this government doesn’t really care about you and me. It certainly doesn’t care about women, regardless of the occasional motherhood statement they come out with. It’s all about power, and I think that’s being exposed.

Power is at the heart of these crimes themselves. Domination is much a part of rape as sex is. The stories we hear of now are just the tip of the iceberg. By all reports, it appears there’s a particularly toxic culture in parliament that has allowed for these crimes to secure and go unpunished for so long. It’s also clear that what we read and hear of now is common in the world outside of parliament. It seems that many, if not most women, had a story of sexual abuse or harassment to tell.

This is an appalling situation, but something positive must come out of this if we do it right. We know the Libs don’t want a bar of it because they’re being burnt. I suspect Labor are wary, fearing the fire might catch. I don’t think this will go away, though, not this time.

I sense a fury and resolve in the people I speak to, particularly women. Publicly, it’s the women who are taking this fight up to the government – the female journalists of the gallery (who are a great lot and much more talented than their male counterparts), and women across the parliament – Wong, Plibersek, and Hanson-Young.

I’m ashamed, as so often I am these days. These are wicked, poisonous crimes and should never happen, but when they do, we have to be better than this.

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