Australia says inquiry spurred by rape allegations to report findings in November

FILE PHOTO: Smoke haze hangs around Parliament House in Canberra, Australia January 12, 2020. REUTERS/Tracey Nearmy

CANBERRA (Reuters) - An independent inquiry into the workplace culture of Australia’s Parliament launched after several rape allegations involving staff members of the ruling Liberal party will report its findings by November, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said on Friday.

Three female employees of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal party last month said they had been raped by the same man in 2019 and 2020. The man they accused also worked for the party, but has left since.

So far, one of the alleged victims has lodged a complaint with police after first going public with her accusation, without naming the man. The ensuing media storm has cast Australian politics and the Liberals, in particular, under a harsh spotlight.

“The Parliament of Australia should set the standard for the nation,” Birmingham told reporters in Adelaide, the state capital of South Australia, amid mounting public pressure for action.

“The Parliament of Australia should reflect best practice in the prevention of, and response to, any instances of bullying, sexual harassment, or sexual assault.”

No timetable has yet been set for any hearings, which could further fuel pressure on lawmakers.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has been rocked by the series of complaints, which is expected to weigh on public support.

On Wednesday, Attorney-General Christian Porter, the country’s chief law officer, identified himself as the subject of a historical rape allegation, declaring his innocence and strongly denying the claim.

A day earlier, police in New South Wales state, where the alleged assault occurred 33 years ago, said there was insufficient evidence to investigate the claim and closed the matter. The alleged victim had not made a formal statement to police detailing her account. She committed suicide last year.

Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore