Former Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker alleges David Van squeezed her bottom

Katina Curtis and Dan Jervis-BardyThe West Australian
VideoLidia Thorpe has withdrawn claims that a Liberal senator sexually assaulted her.

Former Liberal senator Amanda Stoker has alleged David Van squeezed her bottom at a social gathering in Parliament House in 2020, saying she confronted him at the time and also reported the incident to a senior female colleague.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton stood Senator Van aside from the Liberals’ party room on Thursday after learning about further allegations of misbehaviour beyond those made public by independent Lidia Thorpe.

Ms Stoker, a former assistant minister who lost her Queensland Senate seat after being preselected behind two backbench colleagues, released a statement on Thursday evening alleging Senator Van had inappropriately touched her.

“By its nature and by its repetition, it was not accidental. That action was not appropriate. It was unprofessional and uninvited,” she said.

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She raised the matter with Senator Van the following day and told him it was unacceptable and not to be repeated. She said nothing ever happened again and she didn’t know of any similar events or reports.

Ms Stoker said she also advised a senior colleague of the incident and her action, asking for it to be kept confidential, to ensure if any future allegations arose they could be dealt with appropriately.

“I believe all women should be free from unwanted advances and confident to speak up immediately and be respected for doing so,” Ms Stoker said.

“Obviously, this was not a good experience. I took it very seriously but did not want his misbehaviour to define me or any other woman. I simply wanted to ensure his behaviour was never repeated.

“I would have preferred that the matter be resolved privately and finally — as I thought it was. However, following Senator Thorpe’s allegations, it is now clear that is no longer tenable.”

Senator Thorpe, who was a member of the Greens until earlier this year, used parliamentary privilege on Wednesday to accuse Senator Van of sexual harassment and sexual assault. She later withdrew those comments to comply with Senate rules forbidding politicians from reflecting on each other’s character.

On Thursday she made a formal statement to the chamber, saying Parliament was not a safe place to work for women.

“There are different understandings of what amounts to sexual assault. What I experienced was being followed, aggressively propositioned and inappropriately touched,” she told the chamber, wiping away tears.

“One man followed me and cornered me in the stairwell.

“I was afraid to walk out of the office door; I would open the door slightly and check the coast was clear before stepping out.”

Mr Dutton said he had discussed the matter with Senator Van on Thursday morning.

“Since the airing of Senator Thorpe’s allegation yesterday, further allegations in relation to Senator Van have been brought to my attention overnight and this morning,” he said.

“A short time ago, I advised Senator Van of my decision that he should no longer sit in the Liberal Party party room.

“At the outset, I want to make clear, very clear, that I’m not making any judgment on the veracity of the allegations or any individual’s guilt or innocence.”

He has also asked the independent parliamentary workplace support service to examine the allegations.

Liberal senator David Van makes his first speech in the Senate Chamber at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, Tuesday, September 10, 2019. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING
Camera IconSenator David Van previously said he did not touch or harass Senator Thorpe and “barely even said hello”. Credit: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Senator Van told the Senate he agreed there should be an investigation into Senator Thorpe’s allegations, which he labelled “outrageous”, “scandalous” and “concocted from beginning to end”.

“Nothing that she has alleged about me is truthful. No such exchange occurred between us. There is no interaction that could conceivably resemble what she described today,” he said.

“I do not wish this matter to stain the Liberal Party that I fought so hard for. So I accept that I will no longer be sitting in the party room.”

He did not address any other allegations, but said he would fully cooperate with investigators.

Senator Thorpe told media in early 2021 about alleged sexual harassment by male Coalition MPs, describing being followed, persistently hassled to go out to dinner and them putting their arms around her, but did not name any names.

Greens Senate leader Larissa Waters backed her up on Thursday, saying Senator Thorpe had also disclosed the allegations to the party’s leadership two years ago and had been “greatly distressed”.

“We backed her and supported her and sought solutions alongside her through discussion with the Senate president at the time, the Liberal Senate leadership and the prime minister’s office,” Senator Waters told the Senate.

“When people raise issues about their treatment in this or any other workplace, it is important that those around them take action.”

Camera IconSenator Thorpe made the allegation as Senator Van spoke after question time on Wednesday about the answers from Labor frontbenchers relating to their knowledge about Brittany Higgins’ rape allegations. Credit: Gary Ramage/News Corp Australia

Senator Thorpe told Parliament she had also spoken at the time to then-sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins who was running an inquiry into parliamentary workplaces.

“At the time, I was convinced that the Government believed me — their actions in immediately moving the person’s office reassured me that they understood the seriousness of what I experienced,” she said.

In an interview on Sydney radio 2GB earlier on Thursday morning, Senator Van confirmed he did move office after Senator Thorpe complained to Greens and Coalition leadership about him following her into the chamber when divisions were called — which made her feel uncomfortable.

He later told the Senate he had agreed to the move to avoid any “misconceptions”.

“I agreed to protect myself against her irrational concerns and ensure the effective and smooth running of this Parliament,” he said.

Senator Van urged Senator Thorpe to take any complaint to the police rather than airing allegations under cover of parliamentary privilege, which protects MPs from being sued or prosecuted for comments made in Parliament.

But Senator Thorpe said she did not intend to pursue legal action.

She called on the Government to immediately increase the number of security officers and cameras within Parliament House.

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