Defence minister Linda Reynolds is a decent person. She is honourable and compassionate, as well as someone whose talents and leadership enabled her to rise to be a brigadier in the Army Reserve. I have known her for almost 30 years, and am proud to call her a friend.
But the personal pile-on she has experienced since the story broke about the alleged sexual assault that took place in her office two years ago, in which a member of her staff was the now complainant and another the alleged perpetrator, is a disgrace.
As Reynolds herself has admitted, with the benefit of hindsight she would have done things differently. It is clear this matter has gnawed at her conscience. In responding to her accusers in the Senate, nothing she said has given rise to the conclusion that she was or is indifferent to the pain and distress the young woman suffered at the time and since. What appears to be the correct view of her actions is she genuinely believed she was seeking to do the right thing by the young woman, protect her best interests and make her life and career, after this awful assault, as positive as possible.
Nevertheless, the pursuit of Reynolds has become a political and journalistic blood sport. Labor sees political blood in the water, and like starved sharks with nothing better to do are homing in on it. Anonymous Coalition MPs have started backgrounding against her, perhaps seeing a ministerial vacancy they can fill. Journalists, many of whom would have managed nothing more than their expenses, are jostling with each other to scoop new angles to the young woman’s story, and some columnists and commentators seem to believe there must be a blood sacrifice to expiate the government’s guilt over its so-called misogyny in general and this incident in particular.
So, when it was confirmed yesterday that Senator Reynolds was admitted to hospital — with an exacerbated pre-existing condition — instead of addressing the National Press Club as scheduled, miffed journalists and others took to Twitter to imply she was dodging scrutiny, some posing the loaded questions they were intending to ask her over rubber chicken and second-rate chardonnay. Any sense of public concern for Senator Reynolds’s well-being was conspicuous by its absence: instead, there was much Twitter anxiety about the Press Club flogging off 220 uneaten lobsters.
Ironically, just about the only outside voice to express concern for the minister was Brittany Higgins herself.
As this sordid pursuit of the truth around her late-night ordeal rolls on, it is striking that those claiming they are seeking truth and justice over a brutal and violent act have themselves not hesitated to be brutal in their pursuit of those they hold accountable. They seem determined to break Reynolds in particular.
If Reynolds’s medical condition has been exacerbated, and her well-being jeopardised by the extreme stress she has been put under by Labor politicians seeking her scalp, Coalition colleagues backgrounding against her, and a baying pack of journalists all dreaming of a Gold Walkley, there are many consciences in Parliament House that should be very uneasy this morning. But they won’t be.
It was Higgins herself yesterday who showed the courage and generosity of spirit to Tweet “Let’s just hope that from this whole horrible situation there will actually be some fundamental reform to the MOP(S) [Members of Parliament Staff Act] for vulnerable staff and improvements to the workplace culture in Parliament House.”
Sadly, party politics and political journalism are too often ugly, brutal and vicious blood sports — and despite their rhetoric of making parliament a kinder, gentler place, politicians and journalists are happy to keep it that way. No wonder so many Australians despise their political class.
An earlier version of this piece originally appeared in the Spectator Australia’s Morning Double Shot email. Sign up and make sure you don’t miss out here.
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