Nationals Senate leader Bridget McKenzie has admitted she was ‘aware of rumours’ before Senator David Vann was accused of sexual harassment in Parliament.
Senator Van resigned from the Liberal Party a day before a committee discussed allegations that he inappropriately touched three women, including Independent Senator Lydia Thorpe and former Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker.
She has vehemently denied claims of sexual misconduct, which she says left her ‘broken’.
Appearing on the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday, Senator McKenzie was asked if he was ‘surprised’ to hear of the allegations against Senator Vann.
Senator McKenzie said he was not aware of ‘any specific allegations’, but revealed he was ‘aware of rumours’.
Nationals Senate leader Bridget McKenzie (pictured) admitted hearing the rumours
Senator David Vann (pictured) has resigned over sexual misconduct allegations
‘I was not aware of any specific allegations but as always in this space, and the media will be well aware of this, there are rumors from time to time about certain individuals,’ Senator McKenzie said.
‘So I was aware of the rumours.
‘I hear a lot of rumors and if I act on every one of them, the outcome will not be the best. I’m probably the type of person that if I have first-hand information, I take action and I don’t listen to gossip or rumours.’
It comes after Labor Finance Minister Katy Gallagher came under fire this week for saying she was made aware of Ms Higgins’ allegations after leaked texts were published days before her bombshell allegations were broadcast on The Project in February 2021.
The Labor government has come under scrutiny after Senator Gallagher’s insider knowledge – which he claims he was told to keep secret – and a fast-tracked taxpayer-funded compensation of ‘up to $3 million’ to Ms Higgins.
Former Liberal activist Bruce Lehrman strongly denied raping Ms Higgins and charges and prosecution against him were dropped late last year.
Senator McKenzie said then opposition Labor had been “vicious” in targeting ministers over allegations made against the Morrison government in the wake of Ms Higgins’ claims in 2021.
Lydia Thorpe has alleged she was sexually assaulted under parliamentary privilege, claiming she was ‘aggressively followed, propositioned and inappropriately touched’.
However, she agreed with Senator Gallagher’s decision to withhold information, saying she does the same for ‘community members, staff and colleagues’ who bring sexual harassment issues to her.
‘It’s every woman’s right to decide how she’s going to deal with what happened to her. He can choose to remain silent, he can choose to take it to the police.. there’s a whole spectrum of options,’ he said.
‘I would really hate to see a situation where we have to mandate reporting these things because it takes away that agency.’
Spears was quick to point out that Senator McKenzie was one of those who called on Senator Gallagher to answer questions about his knowledge of the rape allegations, despite his insistence it was confidential.
However, Senator McKenzie stressed that he was not asking Senator Gallagher to breach confidentiality, only to detail what he did after learning the information.
‘When it becomes clear that Senator Gallagher knew about these allegations before they were made public there are very legitimate questions,’ he said.
‘Questions still remain about the compensation payout (Ms Higgins received) … there are still valid questions to be asked about that process.’
Regarding Senator Vann, Senator McKenzie said he supported Senator Thorpe’s decision to detail the allegations under parliamentary privilege.
Former Liberal senator Amanda Stoker (pictured) has come forward with allegations that Senator Vann ‘squeezed under her’
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton moved to remove Mr Vann from the Liberal Party chamber on Thursday and called for him to resign ‘soon’.
“Senator Thorpe was well within his rights to use parliamentary privilege to raise these issues as he did,” he said.
‘Parliamentary privilege is a powerful and much-guarded part of our democracy and senators down the ages have used it from time to time to raise issues of public interest.’
Daily Mail Australia has contacted Senator Vann for comment.
In a letter to Victorian Liberal Party president Greg Mirabella, Senator Vann said he could not remain a member of a party that ‘tramples on the very foundation on which our justice system is predicated’.
Allegations Against David Vann: A Timeline
Wednesday, June 14
3.30pm: Lydia Thorpe accuses David Vann of being a ‘criminal’ as he tries to address the Senate 7.30pm: Mrs Thorpe returns to the Senate to withdraw her allegations, citing parliamentary standing orders. A senator cannot comment on the character of a colleague. He promised to make a follow-up statement on Thursday
Thursday, June 15
7am: David Vann appears at 2GB to publicly deny allegations 12.15pm: Lydia Thorpe makes a tearful confession in the Senate that an unnamed colleague ‘aggressively followed, propositioned and inappropriately touched’ her from the Liberal party room. Simultaneously, Mr Vann gives a speech in Parliament, again denying all allegations 6.30pm: Amanda Stoker comes forward to allege she was ‘knocked down twice’ by Mr Vann at an event inside a parliamentary office in November 2020. He claimed to have dealt with the matter personally with Mr Vann
Friday, June 16
Peter Dutton reveals there is at least one more allegation against Mr Vann, and calls for him to resign from Parliament altogether 8.30pm: Mr Vann issues a final statement, pledging to ‘fully co-operate’ with an examination of all claims made against him
In the letter, he said, ‘Due to the Liberal Party’s wholesale disregard for due process and natural justice in relation to the allegations against me, I am writing to resign my membership with immediate effect.’
Senator McKenzie said Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s decision to immediately boot Senator Vann from the party room and call for his resignation from Parliament following the allegations was the right call.
“All political parties have faced such internal challenges in the recent past and for a leader to be so decisive, I think, was a testament to the strength of his feelings around these issues,” he said.
‘I think there was a lot of quiet jubilation across the parliamentary offices at a leader taking such decisive action.’
Senator Vann denied the allegations and said he would cooperate with any investigation.
On Friday, Mr Dutton confirmed further charges had been laid against Senator Vann.
Senator Vann said he was ‘deeply saddened and hurt that I did not receive a procedural vindication of the claim’.
National leader David Littleproud said he was shocked by the allegations.
He said on Nine’s Today program on Sunday: ‘I appreciate that Senator Vann wants the presumption of innocence but I also appreciate that Peter Dutton has the right to defend the Liberal Party and conduct his own investigation.’
‘If his conduct does not meet the standards of the Liberal Party, then (Peter Dutton) has the right to remove Senator Vann from his party room and the Liberal Party has the right to accept his resignation.’
Mr Littleproud hit out at Senator Vann’s decision to stay in Parliament on the cross bench.
‘While senators may remain, under the law, indeed, they are not elected of their own free will,’ he said.
‘He was elected in the Liberal Party. He wants to withdraw from the Liberal Party and then probably from the Senate as well.’
Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney said last week’s events in Parliament sent a bad message to the public.
“(Parliament House) should be a safe place to work, any workplace in Australia Parliament should be safe,” he told Sky News.
‘There are still obviously problems but I’m not taking away from the great work that has been done (in implementing workplace culture reforms).’
Senator Vann’s resignation came a day before the Victorian Liberal Party’s administrative committee met to further consider the allegations.
He was sworn in as a federal Liberal Party senator for Victoria in July 2019.
Read David Vann’s full resignation letter:
Due to the Liberal Party’s wholesale disregard for due process and natural justice in the allegations leveled against me, I am writing to resign my membership with immediate effect.
I cannot be a member of a party that tramples on the pre-established foundations of our justice system.
This is a travesty of justice and I reiterate that I deny the allegations leveled against me.
I am resigned to acknowledging the cruel irony of doing so amid a public debate about the role of the prosecution and the rule of law that has at its heart the presumption of innocence.
I am deeply saddened and hurt that I have not provided procedural justification in relation to these claims.
I acknowledge the hundreds of members who have shown me support in my last days as a member. I am grateful for their trust in my honesty and integrity. I have worked tirelessly for the party and fought hard for its faith for many years.
I would continue to fight for what I thought were the values of the party – not just under its banner.
Sincerely yours, David Vann.
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