Scott Morrison vows to tackle sexual assault in parliament after rape claims

Cornelia Mascio
Febbraio 16, 2021

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has apologised to former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins for the way in which her complaint about her alleged rape was initially handled.

Mr Morrison, a father of two daughters, revealed he was determined to take action after speaking to his wife about the incident on Monday night.

"She said to me, 'You have to think about this as a father first. What would you want to happen if it were our girls?' Jenny has a way of clarifying things", he said.

"It shatters me that still, in this day and age, that a young woman can find herself in the vulnerable situation that she was in that was not of her doing", he told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.

"And we have to do more, whether it's in this workplace or any other workplace in the country, to ensure that people can work safely in their place, and be at their best and do what they went into that job to do".

Dhanya Mani - a former NSW Liberal staffer who levelled assault allegations against a Liberal staffer in a separate incident - said she was not surprised to hear about Ms Higgins' alleged experience.

After the incident, Senator Reynolds summoned her to a formal employment meeting in the same room the alleged rape occurred.

She was working for Defence Minister Linda Reynolds at the time and says she chose not to make a complaint to police for fear of her career.

Scott Morrison denounced the alleged incident during a press conference on Tuesday.

Addressing how the meeting between Senator Reynolds and Ms Higgins was held at the scene of the alleged rape, Mr Morrison said: "That should not have happened and I do apologise".

Reynolds on Monday confirmed she had been told of the complaint previous year, though she denied the woman was pressured against making a police complaint.

Senator Reynolds said on Monday she was "extremely concerned" about the wellbeing of her former staff member.

"It felt like I immediately became a political problem", she said. It felt like I was sort of a body that was there.

"She was informed that she would be assisted and supported through that process", the spokesperson said, adding that "consideration should have been made" to the location of Senator Reynolds' meeting with Ms Higgins, "and in hindsight that oversight is regretted". "So, I hope Brittany's call is a wake-up for all of us from that point of view".

"At the time of my initial meeting with my staff member I was not aware of the details or the circumstances of the alleged incident in my office".

He denied there was a "don't ask, don't tell" policy in his office.

"I can assure you there is no such culture and I'm not happy about the fact it was not brought to my attention", Mr Morrison said.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister's Office said Ms Higgins was told if she did choose to pursue a complaint, including with police, she would have the support of the Office and the Minister.

"We all have a role to play in that".

Mr Morrison said he would be working with Cabinet Deputy Secretary Stephanie Foster to review the processes for workplace allegations and establish an automatic reporting process for department officials.

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