Nationals Senate leader Bridget McKenzie has admitted she was ‘aware of rumours’ before Senator David Van was accused in parliament of sexual assault.
Senator Van resigned from the Liberal Party a day before a committee was due to discuss allegations he inappropriately touched three women including independent senator Lidia Thorpe and former Liberal senator Amanda Stoker.
He has vehemently denied the claims of sexual misconduct, which he says have left him ‘shattered’.
Appearing on ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday, Senator McKenzie was asked if she was ‘surprised’ to hear about the allegations levelled at Senator Van.
Senator McKenzie said she was not aware of ‘any specific allegations’, but revealed she was ‘aware of rumours’.
Nationals Senate leader Bridget McKenzie (pictured) has admitted to hearing rumours
Senator David Van (pictured) has resigned after being accused of sexual misconduct
‘I wasn’t aware of any specific allegations at all but as always in this place, and the media would be well aware of this, there are rumours from time to time about certain individuals,’ Senator McKenzie said.
‘So I was aware of rumours.
‘I hear a lot of rumours and if I acted on every single one of them that would not result in the best outcome. I probably am a person that if I have first-hand information, I take action, and I don’t listen to gossip or rumours.’
It comes after Labor’s Finance Minister Katy Gallagher has come under fire this week after leak texts revealed she was made aware of Ms Higgins allegations days before she aired her bombshell accusations on The Project in February 2021.
Senator Gallagher’s insider knowledge – which she claims she was asked to keep confidential – and the Labor government have come under scrutiny after Ms Higgins was granted a fast-tracked taxpayer-funded compensation payment of ‘up to $3million’.
Former Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann has vehemently denied raping Ms Higgins and the charge and trial against him were dropped late last year.
Senator McKenzie said Labor, the then opposition party, was ‘ferocious’ in targeting ministers over the allegations levelled at the Morrison government in the wake of Ms Higgins claims in 2021.
Lidia Thorpe made allegations she was sexually assaulted under parliamentary privilege, claiming she was ‘followed aggressively, propositioned and inappropriately touched’
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 single woman’s right to determine how she takes forward what happened to her. She might choose to stay silent, she might choose to take it to police.. There is a whole spectrum of options,’ she said.
‘I would really hate to see a situation arise where we are mandatorily having to report these things because it takes that agency away.’
Speers was quick to point out Senator McKenzie was among those to call on Senator Gallagher to answer questions about her knowledge of the rape allegations, despite her insistence it was confidential.
However, Senator McKenzie insisted she was not asking Senator Gallagher to breach confidentiality, only to elaborate on what she did with the information once it was known to her.
‘There are very legitimate questions when it became apparent that Senator Gallagher knew prior to these allegations being made public,’ she said.
‘Questions still remain about the compensation payout (received by Ms Higgins) … there are still legitimate questions to ask about that process.’
In relation to Senator Van, Senator McKenzie said she supported Senator Thorpe’s decision to detail the allegations under parliamentary privilege.
Former Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker (pictured) has also come forward with allegations Senator Van ‘squeezed her bottom’
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton took steps to remove Mr Van from the Liberal party room on Thursday and called on him to resign ‘sooner than later’
‘Senator Thorpe was absolutely within her right to use parliamentary privilege to raise those issues as she did,’ she said.
‘Parliamentary privilege is a powerful and very careful part of our democracy and senators across the ages have used it to raise matters 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 upon the very premise on which our justice system is predicated’.
Allegations levelled against David Van: A timeline
Wednesday, June 14
- 3.30pm: Lidia Thorpe accuses David Van of being a ‘perpetrator’ as he attempts to deliver a speech in the Senate
- 7.30pm: Ms Thorpe returns to the Senate to withdraw her allegations, citing parliamentary standing orders. A senator cannot make comments on the character of a colleague. She vows to make a follow up statement on Thursday
Thursday, June 15
- 7am: David Van appears on 2GB to publicly reject allegations
- 12.15pm: Lidia Thorpe makes tearful admission in Senate that an unnamed colleague ‘followed her aggressively, propositioned and inappropriately touched’ her
- 1.45pm: Opposition Leader Peter Dutton reveals further allegations and expels Mr Van from Liberal party room. Simultaneously, Mr Van gave a speech in parliament, again refuting all allegations
- 6.30pm: Amanda Stoker comes forward to allege she was groped ‘twice on the bottom’ by Mr Van at an event inside a parliamentary office in November, 2020. She claims to have dealt with the matter privately with Mr Van
Friday, June 16
- Peter Dutton reveals there is at least one further allegation against Mr Van, and calls on him to resign from parliament altogether
- 8.30am: Mr Van issues a final statement, vowing to ‘fully cooperate’ with an examination into all claims levelled against him
‘Given the Liberal Party’s wholesale disregard for due process and natural justice in relation to allegations made against me, I write to resign my membership effective immediately,’ he said in the letter.
Senator McKenzie said Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s decision to immediately boot Senator Van from the party room and call for his resignation from parliament in the wake of the allegations was the right call.
‘All political parties have faced these type of internal challenges over the recent past and for a leader to be so decisive, I think, was a testament to his strength of feeling around these matters,’ she said.
‘I think there was a lot of cheers silently across parliamentary offices with such decisive action being taken by a leader.’
Senator Van denied the allegations and said he would co-operate with any investigation.
On Friday, Mr Dutton confirmed further allegations had been brought against Senator Van.
Senator Van said he was ‘deeply distressed and hurt that I have not been afforded procedural fairness’ in relation to the claims.
Nationals leader David Littleproud said he was shocked by what had been alleged.
‘I appreciate Senator Van wants to have a presumption of innocence but I also appreciate the fact Peter Dutton has the right to protect the Liberal Party and to undertake his own investigation,’ he told Nine’s Today program on Sunday.
‘If his behaviour doesn’t meet the standards of the Liberal party, then (Peter Dutton) has every right to remove Senator Van from his party room, and the Liberal Party has every right to accept his resignation.’
Mr Littleproud hit out at Senator Van’s decision to remain in parliament on the cross bench.
‘While the senator can stay, under the law, really, he wasn’t elected on his own volition,’ he said.
‘He was elected on the Liberal Party. He wants to remove himself from the Liberal party and then he should probably also remove himself from the Senate.’
Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney said the events of parliament in the past week sent a bad message to the public.
‘(Parliament House) should be a safe place to work, the parliament of any workplace in Australia should be safe,’ she told Sky News.
‘Clearly there are still issues but I do not take away from the fact that much good work (on implementing reforms on workplace culture) has been done.’
Senator Van’s resignation came a day before the Victorian Liberal Party’s administrative committee was to meet to further consider 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 wholesale disregard for due process and natural justice in relation to allegations made against me, I write to resign my membership effective immediately.
I cannot remain a member of a party that tramples upon the very premise of which our justice system is predicated.
This is a travesty of justice and I reiterate that I deny the accusations made against me.
I resign also acknowledging the cruel irony of doing so amidst public discourse about the weaponisation of allegations and the role of the rule of law which has at its centre the presumption of innocence.
I am deeply distressed and hurt that I have not been afforded procedural fairness in relation to these claims.
I acknowledge the hundreds of members who have shown me support during my final 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 over many years.
I will continue to fight for what I thought were the Party’s values – just not under its banner.
Yours sincerely, David Van.