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Dutton expels Liberal senator after bombshell abuse allegations

Lidia Thorpe outlines sex assault claims

David Van has been booted from the Liberal party room after fresh abuse allegations emerged against him, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has announced.

Senator Van was the subject of sexual harassment allegations made by independent senator Lidia Thorpe in the upper house on Wednesday.

He has denied the accusations, calling them “reckless” and an abuse of parliamentary privilege.

But in a short media conference on Thursday, Mr Dutton said he had been informed of further claims about Senator Van’s behaviour. He and Senator Van had mutually agreed the senator would no longer sit in the Liberal party room.

“Further allegations in relation to Senator Van have been brought to my attention overnight and this morning,” Mr Dutton said.

“I met with Senator Van this morning, and a short time ago I advised Senator Van of my decision that he should no longer sit in the Liberal Party party room.”

Mr Dutton said that the matter was in the hands of the Parliamentary Workplace Support Services.

“I’m not making any judgment on the veracity of allegations or any individual’s guilt or innocence; I make that very clear,” he said.

It is unclear whether Senator Van’s expulsion is temporary or permanent. Mr Dutton took no questions at Thursday’s announcement.

‘Scandalous claim’

Soon after Mr Dutton’s announcement, Senator Van spoke in the upper house to restate his denial of the allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault levelled against him.

“There is no interaction that could conceivably resemble what [Senator Thorpe] described today,” he said.

“Making false allegations in the Senate today is disgraceful; it brings the Senate into disrepute.

“If it was true, she would not be carrying under the umbrella of parliamentary privilege to make such a scandalous and serious claim so carelessly.”

Senator Van said he had moved his parliamentary office away from Senator Thorpe’s in 2021 on her request but said he sought only to avoid “any misconception”.

“I do not wish this matter to stain the Liberal Party that I fought so hard for,” he said.

“I accept that I will no longer be sitting in the party room.

“There should be and must be an investigation into these outrageous claims so they can be proved to be false … I will fully cooperate with investigators now to any questions that they may have.”

'Shattered' senator denies shocking allegations

Details revealed

Senator Van’s expulsion came just an hour after Senator Thorpe broke down in tears on Thursday but remained composed while speaking about her experience of sexual harassment in Parliament.

She named no names, but said she had been followed into a stairwell and cornered, propositioned, and “inappropriately touched”.

“There are different understandings of what amounts to sexual assault,” the crossbench senator said.

“What I experienced was being followed aggressively propositioned and inappropriately touched.

“To me, it was sexual assault.

“One man followed me and cornered me in the stairwell and most of this was witnessed by … staff and a fellow (senator).

“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.”

Coalition senators walked out shortly before Senator Thorpe’s speech.

It followed a bombshell speech to the upper house on Wednesday, in which she called Senator Van a “perpetrator” of sexual assault. She later withdrew the remarks, but said she would make a further statement on Thursday.

Shattered

Senator Thorpe said she would not pursue legal action over the alleged incidents and had kept quiet about them at the time so as to not distract from coverage of Brittany Higgins’ allegations of rape.

But she said she was scared in public spaces in Parliament after the alleged incidents.

“It was to the degree that I had to be accompanied by someone whenever I walked inside this building,” she said.

On Wednesday, Senator Van called the allegations a “malicious” use of parliamentary privilege, or the freedom from defamation laws afforded to MPs.

On Sydney radio on Thursday morning, he said he had only ever touched Senator Thorpe to shake her hand upon her being sworn into the Senate and delivering her first speech.

He admitted that he relocated his office following a complaint from Senator Thorpe but denied harassment in any “way, shape or form”.

“She made an allegation to our leadership through her leadership that I was following her into the chamber, which made her feel uncomfortable,” he told 2GB.

“That was just the way that we all fall into the chamber when there are divisions (votes).

“You know, at times I’ve been in front of her, at times I have been behind her, but at no time did I harass her, touch her, I barely even said hello.”

Senator Van said he was “shattered” by the accusations. He said Senator Thorpe should go to the police with any concerns rather than use parliamentary privilege to make such allegations.

Two years ago the then-rookie Senator Thorpe told the Canberra Times that four fellow parliamentarians had harassed her.

One unnamed male MP, she alleged, stood outside her office, looked her up and down and said: “I want to take you out for dinner”.

Another example, she said, involved a fellow senator who had put his arm around her while walking into the chamber for question time.

Disappointing week

The scandal encompassing Senator Van has come amid a week where Parliament has been locked in debate about its past handling of allegations of sexual harrassment in the workplace.

Finance Minister Katy Gallagher has been the target of sustained questions from the Opposition about whether she had advanced knowledge of a rape allegation made by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins that rocked national politics.

Citing Ms Higgins’ unsourced leaked private text messages, News Corp has reported that Senator Gallagher learned Ms Higgins had granted an interview to Channel Ten after it was taped and days before it went to air.

Details of Ms Higgins compensation claim were covered on the front page of the Australian on Thursday after another leak.

“I am very disappointed at this week,” Ms Gallagher said.

“I am very sorry for Brittany Higgins.

“I’m sorry that documents about her personal life have been leaked.”

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