Last week, independent senator Lidia Thorpe made explosive claims she was allegedly sexually assaulted by Liberal senator David Van. While Senator Thorpe has since rescinded those comments, which Senator Van also denies, she went on to make explosive claims about the safety of Parliament House for women.
Meanwhile, two further politicians have publicly accused Van of sexual misconduct, which he also denies.
Here’s everything we know about the matter.
What Did Lidia Thorpe Say About David Van In Parliament?
During a Senate sitting on June 15, 2023, independent senator Lidia Thorpe used parliamentary privilege to accuse Liberal senator David Van of sexually assaulting her.
Van was addressing the chamber in regard to the sex discrimination commissioner’s report on parliamentary workplaces, when Thorpe interjected.
“I’m feeling really uncomfortable when a perpetrator is speaking about violence,” Thorpe began.
“This person harassed me, sexually assaulted me. The [then] prime minister [Scott Morrison] had to remove him from his office. To have him talking about this today is an absolute disgrace on the whole party.”
Senate Chair Of Committees, Andrew McLachlan, who was presiding over the chamber at the time, said he would have to refer the matter to Senate President, Sue Lines, who was absent.
Later that day, Thorpe returned to the chambers and formally withdrew her remarks.
At the next senate sitting, Thorpe made a speech in regards to her comments.
Thorpe stated parliament was “not a safe place” and went on to detail an encounter with a colleague in which she was sexually assaulted. (Read the speech below.)
Lidia Thorpe Withdrew The Comments About David Van
Upon officially withdrawing her remarks, Thorpe said:
“Earlier today I made some comments in relation to another Senator. In order to comply with parliamentary standing orders, I withdraw those remarks.
“For the information of the Senate, I will make a further statement on the matter tomorrow [June 15].”
During her speech to the senate on June 15, Thorpe said she “had to withdraw them because the rules of the Senate do not allow you to speak about someone’s character.”
What Is Parliamentary Privilege And Why Is It Relevant?
Parliamentary privilege permits members of the Australian parliament (both upper and lower houses) immunity from legal ramifications for comments made during parliamentary proceedings.
In this instance, Thorpe’s allegations, which might be viewed as defamatory in other contexts, cannot be subject to legal scrutiny.
How Did David Van Respond To Lidia Thorpe’s Comments?
“I utterly reject that statement, that disgusting statement, outright,” Van responded during the parliament sitting, adding, “It’s just not true.”
Van has since released a statement, further denying the allegations.
“In the chamber today, Senator Thorpe made unfounded and completely untrue allegations against me that I immediately and unequivocally denied and continue to deny,” the statement read.
“These outrageous and reprehensible comments were made by Senator Thorpe using parliamentary privilege in the most malicious and despicable way.
“My lawyers have written to her already making my position clear in the strongest possible terms.”
The Senator has also since confirmed he did indeed move offices after Thorpe made complaints against him in 2021.
Speaking to Nine Radio, Van shared:
“She had made [an] allegation to our leadership through her leadership that I was following her into the chamber, which made her feel uncomfortable.
“That’s just the way we file into the chamber when there are divisions. At times, I’ve been in front of her, at times I’ve been behind her, but at no time did I harass her, touch her, barely even said hello.”
He also encouraged Thorpe to take matters to police. “If she has any belief that anything happened, I would encourage her to take it to the police, not hide behind parliamentary privilege,” he said.
Lidia Thorpe Details An Incident Of Sexual Assault In Parliament House
On June 15, a day after Lidia Thorpe made public allegations of sexual assault against David Van, she addressed the senate with a speech detailing an incident of sexual assault by an unnamed person.
In the statement, she spoke of her experience in the parliamentary workplace, labelling it “not a safe place”.
“As all women that have walked the corridors of this building know, it is not a safe place,” she said.
“You are often alone and at long corridors with no windows and in stairwells hidden from view, where there are no cameras.
“I experienced sexual comment and it was inappropriately propositioned by powerful men. One man followed me and cornered me in the stairwell and most of this was witnessed by its staff and fellow member for Parliament.
“No-one witnessed what happened in the stairwell as there were no cameras in stairwells.
“I know there are others that have experienced similar things and have not come forward in the interest of their careers and fear that they would be presented to the world by the media in the same way that I have been today.
“There are different understandings of what amounts to sexual assault, and what I experienced was being followed, aggressively propositioned and inappropriately touched.”
Senator Thorpe did not name any perpetrator.
The independent senator, who cried as she delivered her address, continued:
“I was afraid to walk out of the office, I would open the doors slightly and checked the coast was clear before stepping out. It was to the degree that had to be accompanied by someone whenever I walked inside this building.”
Thorpe stated that, at the time, she spoke to the President of the Senate, colleagues, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, and senior leaders of the Liberal Party. She also thanked the Greens, her party at the time, for their support on the issue.
Thorpe said the incident occurred around the same time as Brittany Higgins made allegations of sexual assault in Parliament House.
“I did not make the incident public at the time because it was during the time Brittany Higgins had made her experience in this building public,” Thorpe shared.
“I did not want to have anything taken away from it her experience and her bravery in coming forward.”
In regard to her comments about David Van, Thorpe said:
“Yesterday I had to listen to a senator who has made me feel unsafe speak on how important it is to keep women safe in Parliament.
“Silence is violence.
“And yesterday I could not stay silent as someone who has knowingly made me feel unsafe had the gall to stand up in front of Parliament and preach about protecting women.
“This was not an isolated incident. And there are others I could name who have inappropriately touched me. Invaded my space and knowingly made me feel unsafe.”
She added that she was “disappointed by the reaction of the Senator”.
Senator Thorpe confirmed she would not pursue any legal action.
“I will not pursue legal action against the senator. I will not go to the police. This is my choice,” she said.
“But I will continue to speak out against the abuse and harassment that happens in this building.”
Senator Thorpe signed off by saying:
“I want to focus on making this place safe for everyone.
“And at this moment, it is not a safe place the women and I call on the government to immediately increase the number of security guards in the building and cameras in the corridors and to consult women who work here on what measures can and should be taken.
“I send my love and solidarity to all women, girls and gender diverse people out there who experience many different forms of sexual violence and to all those survivors, we must continue to stand strong, stand together and never be silenced.”
Peter Dutton Removes David Van From Liberal Party Room
Liberal leader Peter Dutton responded to claims made by Lidia Thorpe by removing Senator David Van from the Liberal party room, ABC News reports.
Senator Van, who denies all allegations, accepted the Opposition Leader’s decision.
“I do not wish this matter to stay in the Liberal Party that I have fought so hard for, so I accept that I will no longer be sitting in the party room,” Van told the senate on June 15.
More Complaints About Senator Van Emerge
Former Liberal senator Amanda Stoker has since come out with accusations of misconduct against former colleague, David Van.
“In November 2020 Senator Van inappropriately touched me at an informal social gathering in a parliamentary office,” Stoker alleged in a statement.
“He did so by squeezing my bottom twice. By its nature and by its repetition, it was not accidental. That action was not appropriate. It was unprofessional and uninvited.”
Stoker went on to say she raised the issue with Van, who apologised for the incident and promised he would never do it again. Van told ABC News that he could not recall the incident but has confirmed he had a conversation with Stoker.
“I can confirm I had a very friendly and open discussion with a colleague sometime about this and made it clear that I had no recollection of any such event and can confirm it is not something I would ever do,” Van shared.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton has also confirmed to media that a third allegation was known to him.
David Van Resigns From Liberal Party
David Van has left the Liberal party and will continue to sit in the Senate as an independent. Despite resigning from the party on June 17, he has resisted calls from his colleagues—including Opposition leader Peter Dutton and Nationals leader David Littleproud—to quit his position altogether.
Van continues to deny any allegations of wrongdoing and is reportedly “deeply distressed and hurt that I have not been afforded procedural fairness in relation to these claims”.
Meanwhile, following his step back from the party, Van will take leave from parliament for the week.
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