Protesters attend a rally against sexual violence in Australia’s capital city Canberra.
Leaked videos of staff from Australia’s conservative government performing sex acts in parliament, including one man masturbating over a female MP’s desk, left Scott Morrison’s administration facing yet another major scandal Tuesday.
The prime minister — already under pressure for his handling of sexual assault allegations including that a female government adviser was raped by a colleague — called the behaviour “disgraceful” and “absolutely shameful”.
The videos and photos, which had allegedly been shared in a group chat of coalition government staff before being leaked by a whistleblower, were first revealed by The Australian newspaper and Channel 10 late Monday.
The graphic images have prompted fresh outrage from female lawmakers and the Australian public, coming on the heels of the rape allegations which sparked mass nationwide protests.
The whistleblower, identified only as Tom, told the news outlets that government staffers and MPs often used a Parliament House prayer room to have sex, and alleged that sex workers had been brought into the building “for the pleasure of coalition MPs”.
He also said a group of staffers routinely swapped explicit photos of themselves and he received so many he had “become immune to it”.
He said there was a “culture of men thinking that they can do whatever they want” and while he did not think the staffers had broken any laws, “morally, they are bankrupt”.
One aide was immediately fired and the government has promised further action.
Minister for Women Marise Payne told local media the latest revelations were “beyond disappointing”, saying they highlighted the need for a government-ordered inquiry into parliament’s workplace culture.
Cabinet minister Karen Andrews said she had had an “absolute gutful” of sexism in politics and her “conscience will no longer allow me to remain quiet”.
She told reporters in Canberra that the ruling Liberal Party should consider gender quotas for its political representatives.
Australia’s parliament has been repeatedly criticised for a “toxic” workplace culture that has allegedly spawned persistent bullying, harassment and sexual assault of women — particularly in the ruling coalition.
Former government staffer Brittany Higgins alleged publicly last month that she had been raped by a colleague in a minister’s parliamentary office in 2019.
And earlier this month, Attorney-General Christian Porter vigorously denied swirling accusations he had raped a 16-year-old girl in 1988 when they were both students.
The controversies have placed growing pressure on the prime minister, who critics say has fumbled the government’s response.
Morrison grew emotional at a press conference in Canberra on Tuesday when talking about the importance of his wife, mother and daughters, also saying women had endured a “very traumatic” month.
“These events have triggered, right across this building and indeed right across the country, women who have put up with this rubbish and this crap for their entire lives, as their mothers did, as their grandmothers did,” he said.
“It is something that has been the lived experience of Australian women for a very long time, and I welcome the spotlight that has now been placed on it,” he said, acknowledging many were unhappy with his response to date.
Tens of thousands of women this month joined “#March4Justice” rallies to protest sexual violence and gender inequality, calling for systemic change in politics and wider Australian society.
The opposition Labor party, which already has gender quotas in place, has not been immune from similar allegations. A Facebook group of female workers recently detailed alleged sexual harassment by male colleagues and politicians.