Features Australia

Affairs of staff and state

Close encounters of the sordid kind

27 February 2021

9:00 AM

27 February 2021

9:00 AM

It’s lucky China didn’t invade Taiwan this week as the government focussed its attention on what it considered to be the more pressing matter of the drunken sexual encounters of former staffers.

The Prime Minister, defence minister, finance minister, federal cabinet, assorted assistant ministers and backbenchers, the opposition leader, the media, old Uncle Tom Cobbley and all have been preoccupied with the alleged sexual assault of one former government staffer by another that may or may not have taken place almost two years ago.

The facts of the matter are not clear although not for lack of evidence. The close encounter of the sordid kind was recorded on closed circuit television because it took place in the early hours of Saturday morning, 23 March 2019, in the office of the minister for defence personnel who employed the advisers.

It was a major security breach not to mention a bit icky for anyone who sat on the couch afterwards. The staffer herself was offended that the minister chose to discuss the matter with her in the presence of the soiled sofa but it was hardly the minister’s fault that her office furniture had been turned into a simulacrum of Harvey Weinstein’s casting couch. The staffer says that she doesn’t even remember what was said in the meeting because she was so distressed by the presence of the sullied settee. ‘I am sure she (the minister) was saying very many lovely words. But all I knew was the couch,’ she told a journalist this week. The minister seems to have done the right things but the staffer claims that she felt like she and her staff were just ‘ticking a box’. Maybe so but at least the boxes were ticked.

Was the staffer raped? She didn’t mention an assault to the parliament house security guards on the day and it was only in her second meeting with the chief of staff investigating the matter that she hinted that she had not consented.

She told a journalist this week that ‘for the longest time I was really weird about actually saying it was rape. I don’t know why. I was very delicate about it.’ So, all she told the chief of staff was that ‘he was on top of me’, and that she thought from their exchange that the COS ‘understood the inference’.

The staffer was disappointed that once the minister discussed the matter with the staffer, she never brought it up with her again but given that level of squeamishness about even saying the ‘r’ word, it’s understandable that the minister concluded that it was best not to raise the matter with the staffer more than once. And after all, apart from comforting distressed staffers, she has responsibility for ensuring that the defence forces that protect 25 million Australians have the materiel they require to protect the nation.

The staffer’s main complaint against the now minister of defence is that she felt like she was forced to choose between going to the police and keeping her job. Yet unlike the male staffer, who was held responsible for the security breach and resigned immediately, the female staffer was told by the minister that she would be supported whatever she decided to do – to go to the police or not. She was given a range of employment options and continued working for the government until she tendered her resignation at the end of January to the minister for employment, who she worked for after the 2019 election and who detailed in parliament this week how reluctant she was to accept the staffer’s resignation, how she offered to go with the staffer to speak to the PM about her concerns or to the police if she wished to press charges. The contrast between the treatment of the male and female staffers is stark. Yet the lobby group Mad F-cking Witches has mounted a campaign accusing the government of being ‘rapist protectors’.

The staffer says she wants ‘a comprehensive police investigation into what happened’ to her and asked the police to handle their investigation in a ‘timely manner as to date, I have waited a long time for justice’, seemingly forgetting that this was a delay of her own making since it was she who did not press charges. Ironically, she also told journalists that the government had breached her privacy ‘at every turn in this process’ although it was her choice to go to the media. She says she is angry that she learnt key details of her alleged attack from the media, surely a sentiment that the government shares. Having launched not one but four inquiries into every aspect of workplace culture, it is hoped that the government can focus on affairs of state not of staff.

Yet, despite the threat China poses to our health, trade and security, the only war that the government seems to be focussed on is with Facebook. Australians were given a taste of cancel culture as the nations’ news feeds were de-platformed. It turned out to be an own goal for the social media behemoth. Having alienated a swathe of users by allowing Cambridge Analytica to harvest the data of up to 87 million people worldwide without their consent, and its heavy-handed censorship of right-wing users since 2020, Facebook managed simultaneously to infuriate mainstream Australians and attract the attention of governments and media around the world considering how they might rein in Big Tech and milk it for revenue.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was pleased to announce that Facebook was re-friending Australia by recommitting to negotiate in good faith. Predictably, the issue of Facebook censorship has barely rated a mention since the government and most of the media support the same topsy-turvy idea of what constitutes misinformation particularly when it comes to life-saving medication to treat Covid-19 and end the pandemic.

Craig Kelly, the federal member for Hughes, remains the lone voice of sanity. This week, he resigned from the government to be able to speak freely on the use of ivermectin, a drug that has been shown in 41 studies on 14,833 patients to reduce Covid deaths by up to 83 per cent and prevent infection by up to 89 per cent. The Liberal party says that it believes in those most basic freedoms of parliamentary democracy – freedom of thought and speech. If it means it, now is the time to show it. Bring Kelly back into the fold and start using ivermectin to end the pandemic and make Australia great again.

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