Scott Morrison says second former Liberal staffer’s sexual assault allegations are ‘very distressing’
This article contains references to rape and sexual assault.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he was “very upset” by allegations that a second former Liberal staffer was sexually assaulted by the same man accused of raping Brittany Higgins in a Parliament House office.
The fresh allegations, made anonymously to the Weekend Australian, come amid ongoing calls for an independent probe into the handling of Ms Higgins’ allegations.
In a news.com.au article first published this week, Ms Higgins alleged a male colleague had raped her inside the ministerial office of then-Defence Minister Linda Reynolds in March 2019.
She reported feeling “dismissed” following the alleged incident and opted not to take a complaint further with police because she was worried it would impact her career.
But on Friday, Ms Higgins announced she had “re-engaged” with the Australian Federal Police and would proceed with a formal complaint.
The second alleged victim told the Weekend Australian she had decided to share her story to support Ms Higgins, claiming her assault – which allegedly took place in late 2020 – may not have happened if the earlier incident had been dealt with properly.
Mr Morrison on Saturday said he didn’t know who the second alleged victim was but that the allegations were “very distressing”.
“I’m very upset about those circumstances and particularly for the young woman … that is a very distressing event,” he said.
He said he was looking to complete an investigation into the complaints as “swiftly and effectively” as possible, noting the allegations would have “traumatised many”.
“There is significant work that still remains to be done in the Parliament House work culture,” he said.
“This has been a challenging issue for many, many years. And I think we would be naive to think it’s not a challenge that other workplaces face all around the country, but I agree the parliament should be setting the standard.”
The Prime Minister also insisted that all ministers who had knowledge of Ms Higgins’ allegations had sought to refer the matter to police, while welcoming the recent referral of it to the AFP.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Anthony Albanese repeated Labor’s calls for an independent investigation into the procedures for handling sexual assault complaints in parliament, describing the second allegations as a “quite shocking revelation”.
“You need that arm’s-length capacity to deal with these issues, independent of government or any political party, to deal with it transparently. And it needs to have the authority to deal with it as well,” Mr Albanese told reporters.
He said people could “draw their own conclusions” about the second alleged victim’s claims her assault may not have happened had the proper action been taken.
“It’s very clear that in 2019, Ms Higgins was made to feel, according to her own account, was made to feel that there would be consequences for her career if she pursued the matter,” he said.
“And that she was discouraged from it and in her own words, that the reported sexual assault was seen as a ‘political problem’ as opposed to a crime against Ms Higgins that needed to be dealt with.”
Mr Morrison’s former chief of staff, the current Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Phil Gaetjens, has been tasked with leading a review into departmental communications regarding the incident.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, you can call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit http://1800RESPECT.org.au.