The tensions came to a head on Wednesday night when Senator Burston and Senator Hanson’s chief of staff, James Ashby, had a physical altercation near the Great Hall of Parliament House. Security was later notified.
Senator Burston was elected as a NSW senator for One Nation at the 2016 poll but abandoned the party in 2018 and defected to 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.
A letter claimed to have been sent to the Department of Finance late last year shows one former staff member made a series of allegations about the 70-year-old parliamentarian.
The former staffer, who worked in Senator Burston’s team for two years, alleged she was propositioned mid-last year just after a tense meeting between staff broke up and the senator was left alone with the woman.
«I was a bit distressed and was speaking to BB [Brian Burston] in his private office when he offered to f—k me to make things better,» she wrote. «I refused his approach, but inside my world shattered.»
Earlier in the letter, the woman described Senator Burston’s office as «not a beacon of professionalism».
«There is a line that should not be crossed. Abusive language and sexual harassment is unacceptable» she wrote. «I knew that this poor practice of workplace bullying was accepted by Brian Burston as he was one of the biggest perpetrators.»
Towards the end of the letter, she describes Senator Burston as a «delusional megalomaniac» and notes other staff also shared concerns.
The former staffer’s letter claims she sought counselling as a result of her interactions with Senator Burston.
The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age put a series of detailed questions to Senator Burston’s office on Wednesday. He has not responded but has denied all allegations of sexual harassment.
Senator Burston knew the claims against him were about to be publicly aired and in an interview with The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday night made a series of counter-harassment allegations against Senator Hanson, his former party leader.
Senator Hanson scheduled a last-minute appearance on Sky News on Wednesday night to laugh off the claims. One Nation believes Senator Burston may make further allegations against the party under parliamentary privilege on Thursday.
The letter of complaint also suggests Senator Burston misled Parliament last year over his defection from One Nation to the United Australia Party.
After his falling out with Senator Hanson, Senator Burston rose in the Senate at 10:06am on June 18 to say that «from this day forward, I will be sitting as an independent senator.» He held a press conference with Mr Palmer just hours later to announce he was joining the billionaire’s party.
Senator Burston told reporters he was negotiating «right to the last minute» and only decided to join Mr Palmer’s party at 10:30am that day.
However the letter includes a claim that Senator Burston told three staff members about the plan well before it unfolded.
«[He] misled the Parliament as he told us as the RSL a few days prior in Toronto that he was going to join the United Australia Party with Clive Palmer,» the letter states.
«Misleading the Parliament is a serious offence.»
Max is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Bevan Shields is the Federal Editor and Canberra Bureau Chief for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.