Senator David Van rides out pressure to quit after assault allegations

Embattled Victorian Senator David Van is riding out mounting pressure to quit politics one week after bombshell sexual assault allegations were levelled against him.

Rather than quit, Senator Van will take leave for the final week of Parliament before a long winter break after resigning from the Liberals and issuing a clear statement showing his intent to remain in the Senate despite mounting pressure.

Nationals leader David Littleproud said on Sunday that he had been “shocked” by the accusations against Senator Van and called on him to quit politics.

His Coalition colleague argued that Victorians had voted for a representative of the Liberal Party, not him personally.

‘Remove himself’

“You weren’t elected as an individual,” he said on Sunday.

“Unfortunately, while the Senator can stay, under the law, (but) he wasn’t elected on his own volition.

“He wants to remove himself from the Liberal Party, and then he should probably also remove himself from the Senate.”

Only about 1600 Victorian electors gave Senator Van their first preference in the 2019 election.

His fellow Victorian independent, Senator Thorpe, who resigned from the Greens this year, attracted 40,000.

If he returns to Parliament, Senator Van will be seated alongside Ms Thorpe on the crossbench of the upper house.

Senator Van resigned from the Liberals on Saturday after former Liberal senator Amanda Stoker said he had groped her.

In his resignation letter, the Senator accused the Liberals “of showing wholesale disregard for due process and natural justice” and vowed to “continue to fight”.

Remaining in the Senate would afford Senator Van parliamentary privilege or freedom from defamation lawsuits.

Last week in Parliament, the allegations against Senator Van were raised after the Coalition revived the case of former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins, who alleged she had been raped in the former defence minister’s office.

Coalition Senators argued last week that the issue was politicised and had been used to damage former prime minister Scott Morrison.

Senator Van rose to speak last Wednesday on properly handling such allegations when Senator Thorpe interrupted – spurred, she said, by his alleged hypocrisy.

She later said she had been followed aggressively, propositioned and inappropriately touched in a stairwell by an unnamed fellow parliamentarian.

Aware of rumours

Former senator Stoker then alleged her fellow Liberal had “inappropriately touched” her at an informal social gathering three years ago.

On Friday, Mr Dutton confirmed further allegations had been brought against Senator Van.

A third senator, the Nationals’ Bridget McKenzie, said on Sunday she had been aware of the rumours involving Senator Van’s conduct.

“I was aware of rumours,” she told the ABC.

“As always in this place, and the media would be well aware of this, there are rumours from time to time about certain individuals.

“I think there were a lot of cheers silently across parliamentary offices with such decisive action being taken by a leader.”

Who knew what, when?

News Corporation and the Coalition targeted Finance Minister Katy Gallagher last week over the issue of when she first learned of Ms Higgins’ allegations.

Senator Thorpe claimed “the (then) prime minister [Scott Morrison] had to remove” Senator Van from his office, he did confirm he switched offices in 2021”.

That was contradicted flatly by the former prime minister.

“Mr Morrison has no recollection of Lidia Thorpe ever making such an allegation to him personally or of any involvement in Senator Van moving offices,” a statement from his office read last week.

But the Greens leader in the Senate, Larissa Waters, and the Coalition’s leader, Simon Birmingham, have since confirmed that Mr Morrison’s office was contacted over the plan to relocate Senator Van’s office in response to a complaint made by Senator Thorpe.

Mr Morrison’s office did not respond on Sunday when asked if he continued to stand by that statement about when he first learned of the allegations against Senator Van.

The former prime minister last week denied intentionally misleading Parliament two years ago over the Higgins affair, when his statements at the time were contradicted by a senior staffer.

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