Brittany Higgins
Former staffer Brittany Higgins interviewed on The Project (Image: Channel 10)

Note: This story discusses sexual assault.

If feels like Australia is on the precipice of something huge. Anger against our elected officials is reaching boiling point.

For years our government has been accused of perpetuating a culture of sexual violence. Officials have allowed predators and bullies to stalk the halls of parliament, getting promotion after promotion while their victims are forced out of their positions.

We know the names of the women who have bravely put their experiences on the record — the only way they could be heard.

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We don’t know the names of many of the men who have been kept sheltered under anonymity, keeping their roles with little repercussion or accountability while women leave their career paths behind.

Now, a current cabinet minister has been added to the list.

Australia has one of the highest rates of sexual violence in the world. Consent education is not mandatory in our schools, and literacy of consent is embarrassingly low in this country. Evidently, it appears it is even lower amongst our elected officials.

This cabinet minister is accused of raping a 16-year-old girl three times when the two were students in 1988. When this woman — who we will call Jane Doe from this point on — came forward with her allegation in 2019, she didn’t just contact the police. She contacted politicians and old friends, building a support network around her.

I find it impossible to believe the accused and his inner circle didn’t know about these allegations in 2019. There are growing calls to stand the minister aside.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused to name the cabinet minister, meaning other innocent men are getting lumped in with the accused.

Jane Doe has been described to me as a “bright, shining light”. She doesn’t deserve to be remembered for the man that allegedly abused her but, because there was no accountability back then, that is likely what she will now be known for.

Jane’s friends say she didn’t want the issue to become politicised. Yet politicians are already doing just that: Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson said on Sunday she referred a rape allegation against an unnamed Labor member of parliament to the federal police.

The two sides are holding grenades, refusing to do what is right. Stand those involved aside until an investigation takes place. If anyone representing our country has been accused of such a horrendous crime, Australians deserve acknowledgement of the claim and a full and frank investigation.

The fact someone earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year of taxpayer money could continue to remain anonymous and their career unaffected while horrendous allegations swirl is confronting.

If the man believes the allegation to be untrue, he should address it. Silence is cowardly. Yet it seems silence and inaction has previously been effective for the Morrison government.

The government has not responded to Australia’s landmark report on workplace sexual harassment. Heads haven’t rolled following Brittany Higgins’ allegations. The government’s initial response — four internal inquiries — was pathetic.

Even as female members of the Liberal Party step down — women the party simply cannot afford to lose — officials stand idly by.

Instead, we get staged photoshoots with Morrison donned in a fluorescent vest examining vials of the vaccine.

Jane didn’t live to see what an impact her statement has made or the collective outrage she, Higgins, and other women have catalysed.

Australia is at a boiling point and Australians should remain angry. We should not let our government remain meek and quiet. We should demand real, enforceable change. We cannot allow any violence against women — let alone that allegedly perpetrated by men funded by us.

We must demand accountability.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. 

For anyone seeking help, Lifeline is on 13 11 14 and Beyond Blue is 1300 22 4636.