'Sickening' images of sex acts roil Australia's Parliament in latest scandal

Protesters attend a rally against sexual violence and gender inequality in front of the Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on March 15, 2021.
Protesters attend a rally against sexual violence and gender inequality in front of the Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on March 15, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

CANBERRA (BLOOMBERG) - Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a staff member involved in "disgusting and sickening" behaviour in Parliament has been sacked, in the latest sex scandal to impact his conservative government.

The Ten Network on Monday night (March 22) broadcast allegations that a group of male government staffers had shared images and videos of sex acts for two years, including photos of sex acts on the desk of a female lawmaker.

"The actions of these individuals show a staggering disrespect for the people who work in Parliament, and for the ideals the Parliament is supposed to represent," Morrison said in a statement. "It's not good enough, and is totally unacceptable," he said, adding that the staff member at the "centre" of the allegations had been fired.

The latest scandal comes a week after thousands of women rallied across Australia to protest against sexual violence and Morrison's handling of rape scandals roiling Parliament.

They are creating a political backlash against Morrison's government, which fell to a 13-month low in the latest Newspoll published March 15 to trail the main Labour opposition, 48-52.

The government under fire for refusing to hold an inquiry into claims that Attorney-General Christian Porter raped a fellow member of a school debating team in 1988 - allegations he denies.

There's also been a growing criticism of Morrison's handling of allegations that former government media adviser Brittany Higgins was raped by a fellow staffer in a minister's office in 2019.

In response, Morrison has ordered an independent inquiry into workplace culture of Parliament House to be conducted by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.

Still, the Prime Minister came under fire from rival lawmakers on Monday after it was revealed an inquiry designed to reveal whether the procedures around the incident involving Higgins had been adequate has been put on hiatus by the head of his department, Phil Gaetjens.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne, the most senior woman in Morrison's 22-person Cabinet in which 16 are men, told a parliamentary committee on Monday night that the latest allegations were "appalling."

"The degrading nature of those actions, which were shown in the media, is beyond disappointing," she said.