Australian politics has experienced one of the most bizarre days in recent memory, with allegations of sexual harassment levelled at members of parliament, a physical altercation that left a senator in bandages, that same senator admitting he daubed blood on the door of another politician’s office, and a question time so long it broke records.…
Australian politicshas experienced one of the most bizarre days in recent memory, with allegations of sexual harassment levelled at members of parliament, a physical altercation that left a senator in bandages, that same senator admitting he daubed blood on the door of another politician’s office, and a question time so long it broke records.
The extraordinary events left political commentators open-mouthed and came as tensions rose in Canberra ahead of a federal election expected in May.
Many of the day’s antics coalesced around Brian Burston, a senator who formerly belonged to the One Nation party, led by the controversial far-rightPauline Hanson.
On Tuesday, Hanson accused an unnamed senator – later revealed to be Burston – of “serious sexual harassment”.
Guardian Australia has seen a complaint of sexual harassment made against Burston late last year, as part of a settled unfair dismissal claim. The complaint alleges Burston approached a staff member who was upset. She said he asked whether he could “fuck me to make things better”.
A spokeswoman for Burston denied the claims, saying a 70-year-old man would not use the word “fuck”. Burston’s wife, Ros, gave a similar explanation, saying: “My husband never says fuck.”
Not content with denying the allegations, Burston responded by alleginghe himself was the victim of sexual harassmentby Hanson, saying she ran her hands up his back during a rendition of the national anthem, claims she rubbished as laughable.
But the counter-claims were not the end of the matter. Later, Burston and one of Hanson’s advisers, James Ashby, got into an altercation at Parliament House.
Video recordings show the pair grappling, with Burston saying he was “ambushed” by Ashby.
However, when describing the altercation with Ashbyto News Corp, Burston said: “I told him to fuck off. I lost it.”
Burston appeared in parliament on Thursday with a bandaged hand,vowing to take out a restraining order against Ashbyand report him to police. Ashby’s parliamentary pass was revoked, meaning he cannot enter the building.
In a bizarre twist, after it was announced that Ashby’s pass would be revoked, Burston gave a short speech to the Senate in which he admitted that, although he does not remember doing so, he smeared blood on the door of Hanson’s office on Wednesday night.
“Whilst I do not recall the incident of blood on the door, I now have come to the conclusion that it was myself and I sincerely apologise for that action.”
Burston denied that smearing blood on the door of a colleague – indeed, his former party leader – with whom he was engaged in a bitter fight, was grounds for resignation.
Asked whether he should resign, he said: “Why would I? I barely even remember it. I was traumatised.”
Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, the minority conservative government extended question time to a length that broke records.
While the embattled prime minister,Scott Morrison, said this was because he was “proud of the government’s record”, many saw the extension, which cannot be ended by anyone but the prime minister, as an attempt to delay a vote on a disability motion, which the government could have lost.
Two days earlier the government lost a vote in the house about transferring sick refugees to Australia for medical treatment, the first time in 80 years that a sitting government had done so.
The chief whip ordered government MPs to stay put in an email with the subject line: “Do not leave the house”, and MPs from all sides were photographed nodding off or resting their eyes during the long afternoon.
Katharine Murphy, Guardian Australia’s political editor,describedthe filibustering in parliament as “mild mayhem”.
At one point, referring to the vote on the disability motion, an MP started yelling: “Bring on the vote!”
And given the behaviour in Australia’s two parliamentary chambers on Thursday, the country’s voters will no doubt be approaching the upcoming election with the same eagerness.