Australia

Nationals MPs to undergo empathy training to improve workplace culture

The Nationals will undergo empathy training as a gender crisis continues to plague the coalition government.

The prime minister has been seeking a circuit-breaker amid ongoing criticism for his handling of a rape allegation made by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins last month.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has now set a separate course for the junior coalition partner.

He says the Nationals party room has agreed to undergo empathy training to improve their workplace culture.

“If we can learn from an expert … and actually learn a few tips on how to not only be better ourselves, but how to call out others for it, then I think that’s a good thing,” Mr McCormack told ABC on Saturday, when the party held its federal conference in Canberra.

The Nationals’ move came a few hours after Prime Minister Scott Morrison ordered one of his Liberal MPs to undergo empathy training.

Mr Morrison spoke to Andrew Laming on Saturday morning after the Queensland MP downplayed his apology to two constituents for trolling them on social media.

Scott Morrison clashes with Sky News reporter over sexual harassment claims

The prime minister said Dr Laming would do a private course to “build understanding and awareness” about his actions.

“I want to see behaviour change and we’ve all got a job to do with that, and he certainly has a job to do on this,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Sydney.

Mr Laming said late on Saturday that he would step down from all parliamentary roles and undergo counselling.

“I will step down from all Parliamentary roles effective immediately and complete both the counselling courses I committed to; as well as additional clinical counselling, and ask for privacy while that is completed,” Dr Laming said in a statement sent to AAP on Saturday night.

“I will have more to say on my future as soon as that process is completed.

“I would like to thank my local community for their understanding during this time and assure them my electorate staff remain available to them.”

Dr Laming apologised in parliament on Thursday after harassing two prominent women from his electorate over several years.

However, the MP later backtracked from his offering in a post on Facebook on Thursday night.

His defiance led to speculation the MP is confident his valuable vote would spare him from further punishment. The Morrison government holds a one-seat majority in the House of Representatives.

The episode is the latest in a crisis which has engulfed the Morrison government and triggered a wider debate about sexual discrimination, harassment and abuse.

Mr Morrison said everyone needed to change their behaviour, but he doesn’t want the current crisis to divide Australians.

“I don’t want to see gender become a defining thing in this nation. I don’t want this to be a women versus men, men versus women issue,” the prime minister said.

Mr McCormack said he thought that it was men who needed to be more respectful to women.

He said that was not only in public, but also in private.

“Perhaps when they’re just talking man on man, bloke to bloke, mate to mate, they need to watch what they say, and they don’t need that lewd comment about a female, they don’t need to tell those jokes,” the Nationals leader said.

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