Julia Banks: Ex-Australia MP alleges inappropriate touching by minister

image copyrightAlex Ellinghausen/Fairfax Mediaimage captionJulia Bank telling parliament in 2018 that she was quitting the Liberal party prompted government colleagues to leave

Former Australian government MP Julia Banks says she was inappropriately touched by a current cabinet minister at Parliament House in 2017.

Ms Banks, who made the allegation in a memoir, said the male MP moved his hand up her leg during a parliamentary vote session before moving away.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison's office said in a statement they weren't previously aware of the allegation.

Behaviour of such kind was "completely inappropriate," they said.

In an excerpt from her memoir, Ms Banks did not identify the man, who she said was still in cabinet.

She said she and other government MPs had been waiting around for a night-time parliament vote, when the minister came and sat next to her and put his hand "just above my knee and edged slowly and deliberately to my inner thigh and then further up my leg".

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"For a minister to do this in the prime minister's wing, which was full of Coalition [government] MPs, he had to be astoundingly brazen. I found it unbelievable."

Ms Banks' allegations have again, highlighted the treatment of women in Mr Morrison's conservative government and wider Australian politics.

Separate allegations of rape in Parliament House and against a senior government minister prompted a wave of #MeToo protests and women's marches across the country earlier this year.

media caption'Enough is enough': Tens of thousands of Australian women protested in March

Ms Banks has previously spoken out about sexism and misogyny in Australian politics.

The former MP sensationally quit the Liberal party in 2018, after former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull was deposed in a leadership coup which installed Scott Morrison.

In her exit speech at the time, Ms Banks, a former corporate lawyer, condemned the instances of "bullying and intimidation" she had experienced in parliament, which she said was decades behind the corporate world in its attitudes towards women.

She has expanded on this "anti-women" culture in her book, Power Play: Breaking Through Bias, Barriers and Boys' Clubs.

In it, she also alleges that Mr Morrison tried to "bully" her after she announced her departure and tried to silence her. He was like "constant, menacing, background wallpaper", she said.

A spokesperson for the prime minister acknowledged Mr Morrison held several conversations with Ms Banks.

More on the #MeToo scandals rocking Australian politics

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"The prime minister was disappointed in Ms Banks' decision to quit the parliamentary party and had several conversations with her to understand what she was going through to see what support could be offered before she made her decision," the spokesperson said.

They added that Mr Morrison "absolutely rejects claims about the nature of those conversations".

Australia's parliament is currently subject to a workplace culture inquiry being run by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

The inquiry was one of five started a former government aide, Brittany Higgins, spoke out about her alleged rape by a senior colleague in a ministerial office in 2019.

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