For the past three weeks Canberra, the city in which I live, has been labelled as having a “toxic culture” mired in the most tawdry series of accusations of rape among the political class.

Now rape is rape, whether it happens behind the pub or in Parliament House. So far, none of these accusations has as yet resulted in a prosecution. But in the meantime the reputation of a male minister has been all but terminally besmirched, the physical health of a female minister has been damaged, and the Prime Minister has had doubts cast on his “humanity” because he consulted his wife about the issue — although many women might think it a good idea if more men would talk to their wives.

As a woman, as a wife, and as a mother who for 30 years has lived on the fringes of the so-called Canberra “bubble”, I am angry about these accusations.

Why? Because rape is a very serious crime. It is a negation of human dignity, one of the most ghastly things that could happen to a woman — and yet it is being used as a transparently political ploy to distract and destabilise the government.

Not only that, but when the initial onslaught of the Brittany Higgins affair did not dent the government’s standing in the polls, the same cabal led by the ABC [the government-funded broadcasting network] dredged up another alleged incident, over 30 years old, involving a poor woman who died of suicide, whose parents did not want the incident aired.

The intervention of former PM Malcolm Turnbull, who appeared on the ABC TV’s 7.30 Report querying the nature of that woman’s death, is bizarre and horrifying. It is rank hypocrisy to talk of “justice” for a person when the real motivation is simply political.

Justice belongs in the legal system. It belongs in the courts of law, not in kangaroo courts of inquiry.

Of course the whole grubby affair reflects poorly on the after-hours behaviour of young staffers. But the notion that Canberra’s Parliament House is a hive of potential rapists is ludicrous.

Canberra, or rather the Parliament, doesn’t have a uniquely toxic workplace culture. Up to 5000 people work there during sitting times and the culture of male and female relationships is certainly no worse than in many law firms. If anything it might be better.

There is no way that after-hours behaviour can or should be policed. These are young adults, not children, and the codes of conduct that one can impose are limited — and should be.

After all, there comes a time in life when one must start acting like a grown-up.

In recent years social mores between the sexes in all workplaces have, rather than becoming more correct, become more lax. Unless, by some sort of miracle, we return to traditional values of restraint and respect in male-female relations, then we just have to get used to this kind of behaviour.

Bureaucrats will draft codes of conduct, etc, but how much good they will do is doubtful. We are pretty laissez faire in Australia. It is a hallmark of the national culture and it is certainly not a bad thing. We always call one another by our first names. We are casual and relaxed, and we dislike wowserism.

But that casualness can be two-edged sword. In our hyper-sexualised culture, social and sexual relationships are a problem amongst young people who work hard and play hard, whether it’s in law firms or politics. In any big city many young adults act like adolescents who have not properly internalised the sense of propriety necessary when working closely with members of the opposite sex.

Nevertheless, well-educated and well-heeled consenting adults can generally look after themselves. What hope for the children of the poorest and most deprived? Little children are being raped in Aboriginal communities and then sent back by the child protection authorities.

That shocking story, which appeared at the same time as yet another claim of parliamentary sexual assault, was the rape story which really upset me this past week. I felt like both crying and screaming when I read it. It is a far harsher reflection of Australian social values than the Higgins alleged rape story.

We live in two worlds in Australia. There is the world of affluence-obsessed, narcissistic gender politics and our “rights” — and the other world of bleak indigenous poverty and dispossession.

However, those that cry “victim“ in the former get a great deal more attention and air-time, not to mention emotional support, than the very real little victims in the latter.

I think the Australian public is getting fed up with Parliamentary rape stories. However, the carefully orchestrated Brittany Higgins affair is important.

It is a textbook case of trial by media, which appears to have been designed to do two things: firstly, of course, to damage the government and, secondly, to reinforce the movement to change the rules of evidence in cases of rape.

There is a powerful feminist grouping which has been trying to do this for some time. The rules of evidence in rape have already been modified so that cross-examination is not so stressful. However there are some feminists who want the process to begin from a standpoint of believing the accuser, thus reversing the onus of proof, which under our system is neither right, nor possible.

The public airing of these rape accusations has prejudiced the defence of the still-unnamed man Higgins has accused.

And the unproved 33-year-old rape allegation against Attorney-General Christian Porter has compromised his reputation and possibly fatally damaged his career, which, one suspects, is the underlying reason the allegations were made in the first place.

After all, it worked in the case of Cardinal Pell, didn’t it?

Angela Shanahan

Angela Shanahan

Angela Shanahan is a Canberra-based freelance journalist and mother of nine children. She has written regularly for The Australian for over 20 years, The Spectator (British and Australian editions) for...