View from The Hill: Victorian Liberal Party to meet about allegations against Senator David Van

Peter Dutton on Friday declared Victorian Liberal senator David Van should leave parliament ASAP.

The opposition leader told Sydney radio: “I think it’s in everyone’s best interests that he resign from the parliament and I hope he’s able to do that sooner than later and seek the help that he needs. And I think that would be an appropriate next step.”

As yet, there is no sign of Van – who won’t be in parliament next week – complying. He protests his innocence, despite three separate women alleging inappropriate behaviour. His current Senate term doesn’t run out until 2025.

Dutton showed political savvy in tossing Van out of the Liberal party room, and pressuring him publicly to quit parliament.

Van says he is “stunned that my good reputation can be so wantonly savaged without due process or accountability”.

There’s no doubt that this is rough justice, dispensed before the independent parliamentary authority investigates the allegations. Dutton himself says he is not making a judgement on these allegations.

But politics is not the law. If Dutton had said he would wait until after the investigation, that would have been extremely damaging for the Liberal Party and for him personally. Dutton has put protection of the party’s reputation, and his own, ahead of process.

The policeman in Dutton came usefully to the fore as he dealt with the Van issue on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

Following the allegations made by crossbencher Lidia Thorpe late Wednesday, Dutton received more information about Van’s alleged inappropriate behaviour. He probed the evidence.

If the claims had only come from Thorpe, Dutton likely would not have acted in the way he did. But the addition of two more women, one of them former Liberal senator Amanda Stoker, was compelling.

We haven’t heard from the other woman, but Stoker’s account, which she later released publicly, was detailed and precise.

She accused Van of “squeezing my bottom twice” at a function in 2020. She also said she had raised the matter with him at a meeting the next day and he “apologised and said he would never do it again”.

This doesn’t match Van’s all-round denials. But Stoker has contemporaneous notes and says she promptly told a senior female colleague.

Dutton insists that he had not previously heard of Van’s reputation for alleged bad behaviour. But others, including Liberals, did and yet it was kept under wraps.

Van’s parliament house office was moved after an earlier complaint by then-neighbour Thorpe (he rejects the substance of that complaint).

Stoker says that at the time of the incident involving her she “used the internal process for his behaviour to be addressed, whilst asking for it to be kept confidential”.

“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,” she said in her statement.

Even the Greens, dealing with the earlier Thorpe complaint about Van, agreed to the matter being settled privately (although Thorpe subsequently made references, without a name).

One can understand the considerations that see these things settled behind closed doors. But there is a price to keeping those doors shut. The individual may not deterred from repeating the behaviour with someone else. And there is not a wider deterrent message sent out.

While Van is out of the Parliamentary Liberal Party, he remains a member of the Liberal Party at large. What happens with his membership is a matter for the Victorian division of the party.

A Liberal Party spokesperson said on Friday the party “has taken action to suspend all organisational resources and support from Senator Van. There will be an urgent meeting this weekend of the Party’s Victorian Administrative Committee to further consider the allegations raised.”

If the Victorian party doesn’t expel him, that would be a slap in the face for Dutton.

If Van does decide to leave parliament, his Senate spot would be filled by the Liberals – there would be no byelection.

If he stays, he will be getting the cold shoulder from a lot of colleagues. But he would still be paid a good salary. After this week’s publicity his job prospects in the outside world could look pretty bleak.

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