Senate Majority Leader Bridget McKenzie has admitted she was “aware of rumours” before Senator David Van was charged with sexual assault in Congress.
Senator Van resigned from the Liberal Party a day before a committee was due to discuss allegations that he had inappropriately touched three women, including Independent Senator Lidia Thorpe and former Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker.
He has vehemently denied the allegations of sexual misconduct, which he says have left him ‘shattered’.
Senator McKenzie, who appeared on ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday, was asked if she was “surprised” to hear about the allegations against Senator Van.
Senator McKenzie said she was not aware of “any specific allegations,” but revealed she was “aware of rumours.”
Senate Majority Leader Bridget McKenzie (pictured) has admitted to hearing rumors
Senator David Van (pictured) has resigned after being accused of sexual misconduct
“I was completely unaware of any specific allegations, but as always here, and the media would be well aware of this, there are rumors from time to time about certain individuals,” Senator McKenzie said.
So I was aware of rumours.
“I hear a lot of rumours, and responding to every one of them would not lead to the best result. I’m probably someone who, when I have first hand information, takes action and doesn’t listen to gossip or rumours.’
It comes after Katy Gallagher, Labour’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, came under fire this week after leaks revealed she was made aware of Ms Higgins’ allegations days before she made her bombshell allegations on The Project in February 2021 uttered.
Senator Gallagher’s insider information – which she claims she was supposed to keep secret – and the Labor government have come under scrutiny after Ms Higgins was awarded an accelerated taxpayer-funded compensation payment of ‘up to $3 million’.
Former Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann has vehemently denied raping Ms Higgins and the charges and trial against him were dropped late last year.
Senator McKenzie said Labour, the opposition party at the time, was ‘ferocious’ in attacking ministers over the allegations leveled at the Morison government in the wake of Ms Higgins’ claims in 2021.
Lidia Thorpe made allegations that she had been sexually assaulted under parliamentary privilege, claiming she was ‘aggressively followed, presented and touched inappropriately’
However, she agreed with Senator Gallagher’s decision to keep the information confidential, saying she does the same for “community members, staff and colleagues” who come to her with sexual harassment issues.
“It is every woman’s right to decide how to move on from what happened to her. She could choose to keep quiet, she could choose to take it to the police. There’s a whole spectrum of options,” she said.
“I really wouldn’t like to see a situation arise where we have to report these things because it takes that agency away.”
Speers was quick to point out that Senator McKenzie was among those Senator Gallagher called on to answer questions about her knowledge of the rape allegations, despite her insistence that it was confidential.
However, Senator McKenzie insisted that she did not ask Senator Gallagher to breach confidentiality, but to explain what she did with the information once it became known to her.
“There are very legitimate questions as it emerged that Senator Gallagher knew about them before these allegations were made public,” she said.
“There are still questions about the fee disbursement (received by Ms. Higgins) … there are still legitimate questions about that process.”
Regarding Senator Van, Senator McKenzie said she supported Senator Thorpe’s decision to detail the allegations under parliamentary prerogative.
Former Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker (pictured) has also come forward with allegations that Senator Van “squeezed her behind”
Opposition leader Peter Dutton took steps on Thursday to remove Mr Van from the Liberal party chamber, calling on him to resign ‘as soon as possible’
“Senator Thorpe was absolutely entitled to use parliamentary privileges to raise those issues as she did,” she said.
“Parliamentary privilege is a powerful and very careful part of our democracy and senators have used it throughout the ages to raise issues of public interest from time to time.”
Daily Mail Australia contacted Senator Van for comment.
In a letter to Victorian Liberal Party president Greg Mirabella, Senator Van said he could not remain a member of a party that “tramples the premise on which our legal system is founded.”
Allegations against David Van: a timeline
Wednesday June 14
- 3.30pm: Lidia Thorpe accuses David Van of being a ‘perpetrator’ as he tries to make a speech in the Senate
- 7:30 p.m.: Ms. Thorpe returns to the Senate to withdraw her allegations, citing the bylaws. A senator cannot make statements about the character of a colleague. She promises to make a follow-up statement on Thursday
Thursday June 15
- 7am: David Van appears on 2GB to publicly dismiss allegations
- 12.15pm: Lidia Thorpe tearfully admits to Senate that unnamed colleague ‘aggressively followed, suggested and inappropriately touched’ her
- 1.45pm: Opposition leader Peter Dutton reveals further allegations and expels Mr Van from the Liberal party hall. At the same time, Mr. Van made a speech in parliament, again refuting all allegations
- 6.30pm: Amanda Stoker comes forward to claim she was groped ‘twice on the bottom’ by Mr Van at an event at a parliamentary office in November 2020. She claims to have dealt with the matter privately with Mr Van
Friday June 16
- Peter Dutton reveals at least one more charge against Mr Van and calls for him to resign from parliament altogether
- 8.30am: Mr Van makes a final statement promising to ‘fully cooperate’ with an investigation into all claims made against him
“In view of the Liberal Party’s general disregard for due process and natural justice in relation to allegations against me, I am writing to resign my membership with immediate effect,” he said in the letter.
Senator McKenzie said opposition leader Peter Dutton’s decision to immediately kick Senator Van out of the banquet hall and demand his resignation from parliament in the wake of the allegations was the right thing to do.
“All political parties have faced internal challenges like this in the recent past and for a leader to be so decisive, I think, showed his strong sense of these things,” she said.
“I think there was much cheer in the parliamentary offices with such a decisive action taken by a leader.”
Senator Van denied the allegations and said he would cooperate with any investigation.
On Friday, Mr. Dutton confirmed that further allegations had been made against Senator Van.
Senator Van said he was “deeply saddened and hurt that I have not been afforded procedural fairness” regarding the claims.
Nationals leader David Littleproud said he was shocked by what was being said.
“I appreciate Senator Van wanting a presumption of innocence, but I also appreciate the fact that Peter Dutton has the right to protect the Liberal Party and conduct his own investigation,” he told Nine’s Today on Sunday.
“If his behavior does not meet the standards of the Liberal Party, then (Peter Dutton) has every right to remove Senator Van from his party hall, and the Liberal Party has every right to accept his resignation.”
Mr. Littleproud lashed out at Senator Van’s decision to remain in the crossbench in Parliament.
“Although the senator is allowed to stay by law, he was not elected on his own initiative,” he said.
‘He was elected to the Liberal Party. He wants to get out of the Liberal Party and then he’ll probably have to get out of the Senate too.’
Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney said events in parliament over the past week sent a bad signal to the public.
“(Parliament House) should be a safe place to work, the parliament of every workplace in Australia should be safe,” she told Sky News.
“Obviously there are still problems, but I don’t take away from the fact that a lot of good work has been done (in implementing work culture reforms).”
Senator Van’s resignation came a day before the Victorian Liberal Party’s administrative committee was due to meet to further investigate the allegations.
He was sworn in as a Federal Liberal Party Senator for Victoria in July 2019.
READ DAVID VAN’S FULL RESIGNATION LETTER:
Given the Liberal Party’s general disregard for due process and natural justice with regard to charges against me, I am writing to cancel my membership with immediate effect.
I cannot remain a member of a party that tramples on the premise on which our legal system is based.
This is a mockery of justice and I repeat that I deny the allegations against me.
I resign, acknowledging the cruel irony of doing so amid the public debate over the weaponization of accusations and the role of the rule of law, which puts the presumption of innocence at the heart of it.
I am deeply saddened and hurt that I have not been given procedural justice regarding these claims.
I thank the hundreds of members who have supported me during my last days as a member. I am grateful for their belief in my honesty and integrity. I have worked tirelessly for the party and fought hard for its beliefs for many years.
I will continue to fight for what I thought were the Party’s values - just not under its banner.
Sincerely, David Van.