Coalition women call for MP drug and alcohol testing in response to sexual misconduct crisis | Australian politics
Liberal MPs are calling for drug and alcohol testing of MPs as part of a shake-up of political culture following a series of sexual misconduct allegations plaguing the Morrison government.
Katie Allen, who worked as a doctor before entering politics, said she had been shocked at the “underlying lack of professionalism” she had witnessed in Parliament House since her election in 2019.
Calling for an overhaul of the workplace culture at parliament in Canberra, Allen said she would welcome a drug and alcohol testing regime for politicians, saying some government ministers had also privately expressed support for a “dry environment”.
Allen also called for mandatory staff and MP induction training and a possible change to parliamentary sitting hours.
“It is something worth thinking about to at least have responsible drinking,” she told the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday.
“I’ve heard people talking about how they drink because it helps them to stay up at night. I sat in an emergency department as a young doctor, through the hours trying to stay awake, having a drink isn’t what you do. We are making important decisions on behalf of society.
“We need to provide a workforce that is in a professional environment so people can get on and do what they need to do for the taxpayer.”
A fellow Victorian Liberal, Senator Sarah Henderson, agreed that “alcohol is a problem” in parliament and also revealed she had heard “rumours” about drug-taking that needed to be addressed.
“We need the highest possible standards in our workplace,” she told Insiders.
Henderson, who said she had been “disgusted” by the litany of reports of the mistreatment of women over the past two months, also called for a change in the way political staffers were employed, saying the Department of Finance should have ultimate control.
“If there is a problem with a particular staffer and the MP has a view that that staffer is not an issue, then the Department of Finance should be able to step in and terminate that staffer,” Henderson said.
“We [the MP or senator] are not the employer, we are the delegate. The Department of Finance should be able to step in and terminate that staff member if there are proper grounds to do so.”
Henderson said this was relevant to the case of Frank Zumbo, a staffer of former Liberal MP Craig Kelly, who was the subject of an apprehended violence order and allegations of inappropriate behaviour by young interns.
Henderson also expressed concern that the parliamentary culture resulted in women feeling “excluded” from informal decision-making, with men often socialising and discussing the government’s direction without women being in the room.
“We [women] are spending far too much time in our offices alone and not engaging with our colleagues, where a lot of the discussions happen informally about things that we can do better, about policies, about ideas,” Henderson said. “It doesn’t happen all the time, but it does happen.”
Allen, however, said her experience with the group of MPs elected in 2019 had been different, with men and women equally represented in what she called the “vanguard of change”.
“We are what we want to see. These men have been incredibly supportive of us as women and vice versa,” the MP said. “That’s what you want to see. Women don’t want to feel special or different. Women are part of the decision-making and that’s what we want in our government.”
Allen and Henderson also called for colleague Andrew Laming to quit politics and for other “bad eggs” among government staff to be rooted out.
The government is facing a rolling crisis, under fire for its handling of two rape allegations and the treatment of women more generally.
In the past six weeks, the government has been rocked by claims of the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins in parliament, a historical rape allegation against the attorney general, Christian Porter, which he denies, and news that a staff member had masturbated on a female MP’s desk and shared lewd images with others who’d committed similar acts.
In the latest scandal, Laming was this weekend forced to step down from his parliamentary roles and undergo counselling after allegedly bullying two Brisbane constituents and allegedly taking an inappropriate photo of a woman’s underwear. Late on Sunday morning, the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, said Laming would not recontest the next election.
Henderson called for a “zero tolerance” approach to any bad behaviour in parliament.
“I cannot believe there are people possibly involved in those incidents which are still in the building. I say get out,” she said. “We need the bad eggs out of our parliament, out of our party and there should and must be a zero-tolerance for this type of behaviour.”
While Morrison has been under fire for his handling of the crisis, both Allen and Henderson said they had confidence in the prime minister’s ability to tackle the problem.
“I think he is up for the challenge,” Henderson said. “He led us through the pandemic and I think that Scott Morrison is up for the challenge of fixing this.”