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Senate President to look into bitter crossbench fight as a ‘matter of urgency’

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“I’ve been in discussion with the Speaker this morning and those discussions continue,” Senator Ryan said. “We will be looking at this matter as a matter of urgency.”

“We both regard this as a grave matter,” he said. “At this stage I have received no formal information.”

Senator Burston said he did not recall smearing two red marks, which Senator Hanson says is blood, on his rival’s office door on Wednesday evening.

“Ashby probably did it himself. I’ve got no idea,” he said. “I don’t recall how I got back from [Parliament House cafe] Aussie’s to here [his office].”

In a statement, Senator Burston’s office said he had referred the matter to police.

“Brian Burston has reported the full matter to the Australian Federal Police and has commenced legal proceedings against James Ashby seeking a restraining order over repeated acts of harassment and aggression of which the Senator has ample evidence.”

“Senator Burston absolutely denies all allegations and will be defending them strenuously.”

The senator has promised to defend himself with planned remarks in the Senate on Thursday. Under parliamentary privilege laws, a Member of Parliament can make otherwise defamatory comments in the chamber without fear of legal action.

Senator Hanson said she was disappointed about Wednesday night’s events.

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“I just think it’s retaliation and it’s a shame that this has happened in Parliament, it’s not what I wanted to see happen,” she said on Thursday.

“He [Senator Burston] needs to get some anger management. There’s problems in his office. It’s a real shame. I don’t like to see this.”

During a rushed appearance on Sky News on Wednesday night, Senator Hanson denied the sexual harassment claims Senator Burston directed at her.

“I might be 64 but I’m not that desperate. These are allegations that have been made up, there are no truth to them whatsoever and I feel sorry for his wife, I really feel sorry for his wife.”

Senator Burston was elected as a NSW senator for One Nation in the 2016 election but abandoned the party in 2018, becoming the sole parliamentary representative for Clive Palmer’s newly formed United Australia Party.

Wednesday’s counter-harassment claims were triggered after Senator Hanson gave a speech under parliamentary privilege earlier this week claiming a serving senator was being investigated for a case of “serious sexual harassment”.

“This gutless wonder we call senator should tonight hang his head in shame,” she told Parliament.

While she did not name the senator, Senator Burston believes it was a reference to him.

Senator Burston has conceded that since he joined the upper house in 2016, four staffers had resigned, two had been let go while on probation, and four were fired. He did not disclose if any had lodged claims of unfair dismissal or whether any had signed non-disclosure agreements.

Max is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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