Another Australian government MP under fire for ‘disgraceful’ comments towards women

Thousands of people marched in protest against mistreatment of women in parts of Australia last week

Shweta Sharma
Friday 26 March 2021 08:08 GMT
People attend a protest against sexual violence and gender inequality in Melbourne on 15 March, 2021
People attend a protest against sexual violence and gender inequality in Melbourne on 15 March, 2021 (AFP via Getty Images)

Australian government MP Andrew Laming is the latest politician to come under fire over online abuse allegations after a wave of rape and sexual harassment claims have hit the country’s parliament this year, prompting nationwide outrage and protests.

Liberal backbencher Mr Laming apologised to the two women, who said they had been repeatedly harassed online, with one claiming she was left feeling suicidal.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison said he has put Mr Laming on notice over his “disgraceful” behaviour and asked him to apologise.

He added that he has made clear to the MP that he would take a “zero tolerance” approach after Mr Laming was called into his office.

Alix Russo, a woman from Mr Laming’s Queensland constituency, alleged that he falsely accused her of misappropriating charity funds, reported Nine News. She said the accusations against her made her feel suicidal.

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Another woman, Sheena Hewlett, also alleged that Mr Laming harassed her and her husband on social media for about six years, making her feel fearful and distressed.

Hours before Nine News aired the allegations by two women, Mr Laming issued an apology both in writing and in a statement in parliament.

“I want to unreservedly apologise to both Ms Hewlett and Russo and I express my regret and deep apologies for the hurt that my communication may have caused,” he said. “Today in this house I want to retract those comments and issue a public unreserved apology.”

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said that Mr Morrison’s response to Mr Laming was not adequate and he had “got out the feather” to punish him.

“In my view, Andrew Laming isn’t fit to continue as a member of parliament and if the Liberal Party want to continue to associate themselves with him as what a federal public representative would be, then I’ll look forward to campaigning with the Labor candidate in that seat,” he said.

Mr Morrison’s government is facing mounting criticism over the series of sexual misconduct allegations against politicians and a toxic workplace culture in parliament, forcing the prime minister to issue a number of apologies in recent weeks.

The broader issue of the work environment for women in Australian politics was ignited after former political adviser Brittany Higgins said she was raped by a colleague in a minister’s office. The incident prompted four others to come forward with allegations against the same man.

Then a leaked video showed a government adviser performing a sex act on a female lawmaker's desk.

Network Ten reported that parliament's prayer room was being used for sex by government staff and legislators and sex workers were brought in “for the pleasure of coalition MPs”.

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