Government won’t commit to make Parliament rape report public, as more women come forward

Scott Morrison in Question Time

Scott Morrison in Question Time Photo: AAP

At least four women have now made complaints against the former Liberal staffer accused of raping Brittany Higgins, piling more pressure on the government to publicly release the findings of internal reviews.

Attention has now turned to whether the alleged perpetrator was welcomed back into Parliament House after he was sacked in 2019.

Another former Liberal staffer has also renewed her previous complaints of a separate sexual assault, alleging current Finance Minister Simon Birmingham could have done more to respond.

Questions around the government’s handling of Brittany Higgins’ allegations of rape, and the cultural problems inside Parliament more generally, threaten to totally envelop federal politics.

A third and fourth Liberal staffer have told their harrowing alleged experiences with the former employee at the centre of storm, with one accusing him of rape during the 2016 election campaign; the other saying he stroked her thigh uninvited at a Canberra bar.

Brittany Higgins. Photo: supplied

The allegations, published by The Australian and the ABC respectively, come in addition to Ms Higgins’ 2019 report and another allegation from 2020 – all pointing to the same junior staffer as an alleged perpetrator.

Ms Higgins is expected to file a formal police report this week.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison – himself under scrutiny over claims his office did not inform him of Ms Higgins’ rape allegations – has committed to several reviews of Parliamentary culture, internal Coalition processes, and an investigation into what his office knew.

He maintains he only heard the full details last Monday, but at least one staff member currently working in his office knew the story, having worked in Senator Reynolds’ office at the time of Ms Higgins’ complaint.

“What I acknowledge and have consistently acknowledged is that some two years later, that Brittany didn’t feel that support was there for her,” Mr Morrison said in Parliament on Monday.

“That’s what I’ve apologised for and that’s what I believe our processes must now address and that’s what we are seeking to do.”

When asked about why his office did not inform him of the story earlier, Mr Morrison said he “instructed my staff I would expect to be advised of such matters” in future.

Crossbench MP Zali Steggall called for the Parliamentary probes to be widened, to allow anonymous reports, after her office received numerous complaints from former staffers about sexual misconduct in Canberra.

Labor and crossbench MPs have criticised Mr Morrison for handing custody of an internal Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet investigation to department secretary Phil Gaetjens – the PM’s former chief of staff.

Ms Higgins with employment minister Michaelia Cash. Photo: AAP

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese used the daily Question Time to ask Mr Morrison whether he would publicly release the finding of Mr Gaetjens’ report.

Mr Morrison did not give a direct answer, but said he was “looking forward to receiving his report, as I am also looking forward to receiving the recommendations that would come”.

“I look forward to reporting further on those matters at that time,” Mr Morrison said.

Labor is expected to continue pressing for the report’s findings to be published.

Earlier in Question Time, Greens leader Adam Bandt asked the Prime Minister about the alleged perpetrator of Ms Higgins’ sexual assault, and any involvement he may have had with Parliament after leaving Senator Reynolds’ office in April 2019.

A now-deleted LinkedIn profile under the man’s name stated that he worked with a large public relations agency, as an account manager in government affairs, in 2019.

Mr Bandt asked if the man had been granted a lobbyist pass to enter Parliament House, or held lobbyist meetings with federal ministers or department staff.

“I can’t confirm those matters, but I will be very happy to confirm these matters to you and have it attended to as quickly as possible,” Mr Morrison answered.

Greens’ Senate leader Larissa Waters asked a similar question in the upper house to government Senate leader Simon Birmingham, who gave a similar answer.

Finance Minister Birmingham faced scrutiny of his own on Monday, as his former staffer Chelsey Potter wrote a searing opinion piece in In Daily, accusing him of mishandling her own allegations of sexual assault.

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Finance Minister Simon Birmingham. Photo: AAP

Ms Potter alleged a colleague assaulted her in 2019, while she worked for Senator Birmingham.

“I’m yet to receive a call. We haven’t spoken about it at all,” she wrote of her former boss.

“There was never a check-in. No offer of support, either professional or personal. To this day, he hasn’t even bothered to ascertain my version of events.”

Senator Birmingham, in a response to In Daily, said he had referred Ms Potter to the Women’s Information Service and 1800Respect several days before her allegations were published in media.

He added that the allegations “had never been raised with me by Ms Potter”.

He said he would contact her and encourage her to engage with the multiple Parliamentary reviews.

Earlier in the day, Senator Birmingham said the government would welcome the input of any former staff, including Ms Higgins.

“I also reached out over the weekend and had discussions with Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins to ensure that I have her advice, as I work alongside parliamentary counterparts to do so,” Senator Birmingham said.

“It is a privilege to work in this place … And we must all live up to the highest standard that people should expect at this workplace.”

  • For confidential help and support surrounding sexual assault, contact 1800 RESPECT online or by calling 1800 737 732
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