A senator who was dumped from the Liberal party room after being accused of sexually harassing three colleagues appears to have staged an unlikely political resurrection and as a kingmaker.
Victorian senator David Van has kept a low profile since he resigned from the Liberal Party in June after three women, including Senator Lidia Thorpe and former senator Amanda Stoker, alleged he had sexually harassed them.
But on Tuesday, he fronted a media conference in Parliament House standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Labor’s environment minister Tanya Plibersek.
The Environment Minister and leadership hopeful has been trying to negotiate her Murray-Darling Basin plan through the Senate, and days after securing a ‘breakthrough’ deal with the Greens, she’s also found an ally in Mr Van.
Ms Plibersek admitted to being ‘surprised’ when she was handed the environment portfolio rather than education after the 2022 election. This was interpreted as a move by Anthony Albanese to limit the profile of a rival who many within Labor see as a potential prime minister.
His vote may also be vital for a separate industrial rights bill Labor are also trying to push through the Senate.
While Mr Van is not entirely sold on the environmental bill in its current form, he’s been able to negotiate concessions and has vowed to help it pass the Senate.
‘Senator Van and I have had good discussions about his concerns,’ Ms Plibersek said standing next to senator Van on Tuesday.
Former Liberal senator David Van (pictured with Labor environment minister Tanya Plibersek) has returned to the political scene after he was accused of sexually harassing three colleagues
Senator David Van has become an unlikely kingmaker on two key bills being pushed by Anthony Albanese’s government (Van is pictured with Labor minister Tanya Plibersek on Tuesday morning)
‘He doesn’t agree with everything in this bill, I think it’s fair to say, and he was particularly raising his concerns about how this may impact dairy farmers and rice growers.
‘I have sought to give him assurances about how we will minimise any social and economic impacts of voluntary water purchase.’
Mr Van explained he had entered into ‘good-faith negotiations’ over the legislation.
‘It’s made it a pleasure to be able to help improve this bill,’ he said.
With Mr Van’s support, plus the Greens, Labor’s bill should pass.
Labor has also been in discussions with Mr Van about industrial relations legislation which has sparked backlash from Teals, although Mr Van has said he has ‘major concerns’ about the so-called Closing Loop Holes bill.
Two other women, including former senator Amanda Stoker (pictured), had privately made allegations of misconduct to Liberal Party leader Peter Dutton
The bill pushes for minimum pay for gig workers such as Uber drivers, jail time for wage theft and making it a criminal offence to underpay employees’ superannuation.
Labor’s maneuvering to win over Senator Van has raised eyebrows in Canberra as it comes just five months after Senator Lidia Thorpe alleged on June 14 that Mr Van was a ‘perpetrator’ as he delivered a speech on the handling of Brittany Higgins’ allegations of assault.
She later withdrew the remarks, only to offer further detail the next day.
Then two other women, including former senator Amanda Stoker, privately made allegations of misconduct to Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, prompting him to expel Mr Van from the party room.
The under-fire senator then quit the Liberal party, expressing dissatisfaction at the internal handling of Ms Thorpe’s allegations.
Mr Van said he quit the party ‘effective immediately’ following a ‘disregard for due process and natural justice in relation to allegations made against me’.
In a letter addressed to Greg Mirabella, the president of the Victorian division of the Liberal Party, the senator reiterated that he denied the allegations.
After the allegations again Mr Van emerged, Ms Plibersek called on a series of recommendations about changing the culture of parliament house to be implemented.
Ms Plibersek said 40 per cent of women who were interviewed said they’d experienced sexual harassment at work.
‘Of course it’s just not good enough, and we have to have systemic approaches that make it clear that any sexual harassment or more serious things like sexual assault will not be tolerated and that full consequences will be faced by anybody who engages in that sort of behaviour,’ she said in June.
‘And that people have somewhere to turn, that there is somewhere you can go to make a complaint and get the support you need to see that complaint through.’
Senator Van said he was ‘deeply distressed and hurt’ that he had not been afforded procedural fairness in relation to these claims.
‘I will continue to fight for what I thought were the Party’s values – just not under its banner.’
Tany Plibersek (right) been trying to negotiate her Murray-Darling Basin plan in the Senate, and days after securing a deal with the Greens, she’s also found an ally in senator David Van (right)
Peter Dutton expelled Senator David Van (pictured) from the Liberal party room after three women came forward with allegations against him
Mr Van (pictured with his wife Nerilee) issued a statement claiming his ‘good reputation’ had been ‘wantonly savaged without due process or accountability’