Michaelia Cash during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture: Gary Ramage
Michaelia Cash during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture: Gary Ramage

Liberal sex assault claims ‘absolutely horrific’

FORMER Minister for Women Michaelia Cash insists the Liberal Party doesn't have a problem with women but admits claims of two female former staffers about sexual harassment are "serious".

The women have aired the shocking claims - including that a fellow political staffer pinned one down and ripped off her underwear during a sitting week in Canberra - in a bid to urge the party to implement a robust new internal complaints process.

"These are serious allegations. I would say to the parties concerned that they should be referred to the appropriate authorities," Minister Cash told reporters in Parliament House this morning.

Michaelia Cash during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture: Gary Ramage
Michaelia Cash during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture: Gary Ramage

Asked directly whether the party had a problem with women, Senator Cash said: "No, we do not have a problem with women."

She highlighted the Coalition's efforts to get more women into work as evidence.

Senior Liberal Party figure Kathryn Greiner however has called for a culture change from the "very top".

Liberal Party federal vice president Karina Okotel said the allegations were "absolutely horrific" and needed to be investigated.

"The first I heard of it was last night with the rest of the public," Ms Okotel told Sky News.

"I don't know whether the alleged perpetrators are members of the Liberal Party or any political party but regardless of that these are allegations that should be investigated by the authorities, by the police.

"If they are found to be guilty, they need to be taken off the street."

Ms Okotel said dealing with it internally wasn't enough.

"It's not enough that it just be dealt with by an internal process. In fact, I would say that's sweeping it under the carpet, to hush it up and not let the appropriate authorities who are the police deal with allegations of sexual assault."

She added the party's review into bullying and the need for a code for conduct was almost completed.

A federal executive meeting will be held on Friday.

Federal Liberal party Vice President Karina Okotel. Picture: AAP
Federal Liberal party Vice President Karina Okotel. Picture: AAP

Labor frontbencher Catherine King said the claims were "very serious" and the Liberal Party needed to explain its processes to deal with them.

"I think it's really important these matters are dealt with appropriately. People should be safe at work and free from harassment," she said.

Ms King believed the Labor Party had strong processes to deal with complaints internally and added that the Liberals needed to work on boosting the number of women in their ranks.

"I can't speak for the Liberal Party but I think the more women that are in parliament the better the culture is," she said.

"That's certainly something the Labor Party has worked on over many years. We're nearly at 50 per cent representation … and I think the Liberal Party have a lot of work to do in relation to that."

Meanwhile, Tasmanian Liberal MP Bridget Archer also rejected suggestions the party had a problem with women.

"I don't think so," she told reporters as she arrived at parliament.

New Liberal Member for Wentworth Dave Sharma denied the party needed to modernise.

"I think our approach to women is good … just look at the class of 2019," Mr Sharma said, referencing the boost in female Liberal MPs elected in May.

The member for Bass Bridget Archer rejected suggestions the Liberal Party has a problem with women. Picture: AAP
The member for Bass Bridget Archer rejected suggestions the Liberal Party has a problem with women. Picture: AAP

A string of other Liberal MPs declined to comment as they arrived at parliament.

The explosive claims of two former staffers, Chelsey Potter and Dhanya Mani, about sexual assault come as the party conducts an internal review, launched after bullying allegations following the leadership spill last year.

Ms Potter, a former staffer for a minister, told Nine Newspapers she was assaulted by a fellow staffer during a sitting week.

The man reportedly forced himself on her at her home in Canberra and removed her underwear.

"It was very quick and very sudden and quite forceful," Ms Potter told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. "It wasn't until I started to really yell that he stopped and left the room."

Ms Potter told the publications she raised the incident with a senior party colleague who was initially supportive but a few months later called to let her know the man was being considered for preselection for a seat in parliament and to ask if she would feel "compelled to speak out" about the incident.

Ms Mani also claimed a different NSW Liberal staffer forced himself on her at her home in 2015.

"I couldn't do anything else because my mind just became entirely empty and I was just really afraid because he was on top of me," she told the publications.

"At one point he put his hands around my neck and started choking me. At that point I became incapable of moving."

The two men have not been named but have strongly denied the allegations to Nine.