A series of sexual harassment allegations involving One Nation leader Pauline Hanson and United Australia Party senator Brian Burston has led to a physical altercation in Parliament House. In a speech to the Senate on Monday, Hanson accused an unnamed senator of “serious sexual harassment” against a staff member. “Just because you wear the red pin does not doesn’t give you permission to place your unwanted hands, or lips, on your staff”, Hanson said. In a letter of complaint sent to the department of finance last year and published by media outlets on Wednesday, an unnamed female staffer alleged she “was speaking to BB [Brian Burston] in his private office when he offered to fuck me to make things better”. Burston vehemently denied the claim, calling it “bullshit” and accusing ($) Hanson of sexually harassing him twice. Responding to those allegations in turn, Hanson told 7 News “I might be 64 now, but I tell you what, I’m not that desperate”. In an incident photographed by The Australian ($), Burston and Hanson’s chief of staff, James Ashby, scuffled outside parliament’s Great Hall. Security officers were later called to Hanson’s parliamentary office after several streaks of what a staffer claimed was blood were found on the suite’s door. When asked for comment after the incident, Burston replied “fuck you. It’s all a set-up”.
Prime minister Scott Morrison has ordered the mothballed detention centre on Christmas Island be reopened to cope with what he described as “the prospect of arrivals as well as dealing with the prospect of transfers”. Government ministers reacted furiously on Wednesday to the historic passage of independent MP Kerryn Phelps’ medivac bill by the Senate, with finance minister Mathias Cormann falsely claiming that “rapists, murderers and paedophiles will still get a free pass into this country” under the law. Justice Party leader Derryn Hinch, whose support secured the bill’s passage in the Senate on Wednesday, said “the home affairs department assured me today [the refugees] will remain in detention in some manner or form – they will not be coming here and wandering around the streets of Australia”.
Aboriginal protesters shut down federal parliament on Wednesday to draw attention to the Murray-Darling water crisis and fracking in the Northern Territory. Activists from Indigenous youth climate movement SEED occupied the Parliament House foyer as part of the Water Is Life campaign, protesting rising sea levels affecting Torres Strait Islander communities, fish deaths in the Murray-Darling river system and the lack of consultation with Indigenous people on water policy. Meanwhile, Aboriginal rights group Grandmothers Against Removals used the 11th anniversary of Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations to stage a protest outside New South Wales parliament against the state government’s forced adoptions policy. Writing in Junkee, Bundjalung woman Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts recounted her experience of being taken from her father by Family and Community Services. “I was eleven years old when I heard the sirens throughout the housing commission streets in the middle of the night, followed by my father saying, ‘I am sorry bub, but they are coming to get you’”, Turnbull-Roberts said. “I do not accept your apology, I accept the process of healing and appropriate action.”
And independent MP Andrew Wilkie has shunned a Labor push for extra parliamentary sitting weeks to pass legislation in response to the banking and financial services industry royal commission. Speaking to The Australian ($) on Wednesday, Wilkie said any extra sitting weeks in March would be “so soon, and so few, as to not allow time to properly prepare, scrutinise and debate the necessary bills in both houses of parliament”. With the support of much of the House of Representatives crossbench, Labor is pushing to recall parliament for two extra weeks to implement the royal commission’s recommendations. Fellow independent Bob Katter said on Wednesday that he was negotiating “substantial action” on the commission’s recommendations with prime minister Scott Morrison, including a proposal for the government to issue low-interest loans to cattle farmers.