Scott Morrison has acknowledged being a member of parliament “does sometimes attract unacceptable behaviour” as he paid tribute to Nicolle Flint, the South Australian Liberal MP who has announced she will not contest the next election.
Flint holds South Australia’s most marginal seat of Boothby. The MP has been outspoken about sexist abuse she has suffered in public life, and her foreshadowed departure coincides with a debate about duty of care sparked by the rape allegations levelled by the former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins.
The Higgins allegations, and the government’s handling of the aftermath, have rocked the parliament, triggering intense distress and frustration among female MPs and staff across all parties about the toxic workplace culture in politics.
In a statement, Morrison noted the public attention from being a parliamentarian “does sometimes attract unacceptable behaviour, and I have admired Nicolle’s efforts to stand against the bullying and nastiness of particular groups and individuals”.
Morrison said Flint had been an “invaluable member of the Liberal team”.
“Nicolle has delivered not just on local projects like the Oaklands Crossing and the Flinders Link Rail, but also in her advocacy for people battling endometriosis and managing the loss felt from stillbirth,” the prime minister said.
“I look forward to continuing to work with Nicolle through the remainder of this term of parliament, and to ensure we put forward a Liberal candidate who brings the same high-calibre qualities to the people of Boothby as she has”.
Flint’s decision not to recontest the next election presents a problem for the government. The renegade MP Craig Kelly also departed Liberal ranks this week to sit on the crossbench, meaning the government will lack two incumbents to defend their seats at the next election.
While Morrison’s personal approval rating has been consistently high during the pandemic, and recent state election contests demonstrate the crisis environment benefits incumbents – most polls put Labor within striking distance on the two party preferred measure.
Last July the MP took to social media to call out a local broadcaster’s “rubbish views about my appearance” published in the local paper. “It’s time women in public life are judged on what they stand for, not what they look like,” Flint said.
Flint also complained about GetUp after the last federal election, declaring the government should consider a move to register the group as a political party to ensure accountability and transparency.
Flint accused the group of waging a campaign to personally “destroy” her in the lead-up to the election, by shouting at her, defacing her posters and egging her office. “They are a front for Labor and the Greens,” she said.
The news about Flint hit as the ABC revealed three police agencies had been notified of a letter sent to Morrison, making an allegation of rape against a federal cabinet minister relating to his time before entering parliament.
The ABC’s Four Corners first reported the letter on Friday night. It included an attachment reportedly from a now-deceased woman alleging she was raped in 1988. The letter urged Morrison to establish an independent investigation into the alleged sexual assault.