Opinion  |  

The Liberal Party is making the church look good

The #MeToo movement has come to the Liberal Party. Two female staffers have alleged seperate cases of sexual assault by members of the party – one another staffer – while they were working for Federal ministers.

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As The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age report put it: “Both women say they raised the incidents with more senior party figures but were dismissed, and are now speaking publicly to make the case for a new robust, transparent and confidential internal party complaints process.”

Senior figures dismissing complaints or being supportive but protecting the predator. Remind you of anything?

One of the women, Chelsey Potter, says that “she raised the incident with a senior party colleague and that initially he was supportive.”

“‘A few months later down the track he called me again and said ‘we are considering this guy for preselection, would you feel compelled to speak out if he was preselected?'”

Senior figures dismissing complaints or being supportive but protecting the predator. Remind you of anything?

Yes. Something rather close to home for Eternity readers. The Church. Or the transcripts from the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse.

These Liberal Party cases are eerily reminiscent of some of the stories that were at the start of increasingly more serious cases which came to light in the Church.

The Vic Cole case involved sexual misconduct against an underage girl from 1979, by a leading Anglican clergyman in Sydney. It led to the appearance of  Archbishop Harry Goodhew at the Wood Royal Commission into the NSW Police Force in 1997. The Wood Commission also examined two Catholic cases, including priest Peter Comensoli, and a Christian Brother, Michael Evans.

In the case of the Anglicans, Goodhew set about setting up an extensive professional standards system that includes volunteers. Other churches were relatively early in adopting such checks and balances – with the Uniting Church as a standard setter.

Now, virtually all churches will have “Safe Church” officers for each local church, as well as training of all volunteers, risk reduction policies, and vetting processes. Volunteers as well as paid staff are trained in reporting concerns to the state authorities.

The Church was tardy in tackling sexual abuse … [but] the Liberal Party is at least two decades behind.

The Liberal Party allegations make it clear that other volunteer organisations in Australian society may have been left behind by the Church. If the party was a church, all the local branches would have “Safe  Politics Officers”, all staff and volunteers would be trained in watching out for bad behaviour. Regular seminars on safety would be held. See what’s missing?

Any sense that churches have handled #MeToo issues better than other parts of society surely gives rise to competing responses. The hard work of Professional Standards Units – while far from perfect – needs to be acknowledged.

But there is no room for triumphalism, due to cases such as former Anglican Dean of Newcastle Graeme Lawrence – found guilty last month of sexual assault against a 15-year-old boy in 1991 – which proceed in the wake of the Royal Commission.

But the point remains. If much of the Church was tardy in tackling sexual abuse, and it was, the Liberal Party is at least two decades behind.

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