Australian PM apologizes for handling of staffer's rape allegation

Elias Hubbard
February 18, 2021

Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison was under mounting pressure Wednesday after a former government staffer who said she was raped in parliament accused the government of revealing sensitive details of the case.

But amid growing public outrage over the scandal on Tuesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison shifted gears and apologized.

"I have only been made aware of key elements of my own sexual assault as a result of coming forward publicly with my story", she said.

Her boss, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, summoned her to a formal employment meeting about the incident in the same room the alleged rape occurred.

Defense Minister Linda Reynolds told Parliament on Monday that she didn't know the substance of the allegations when she called the meeting with her staff member, and "had I known, I would have conducted the meeting elsewhere".

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

Ms Steggall also said an external review would be a more appropriate response "to ensure that there actually is safeguards put in place and proper processes and that this goes beyond any political party". She told Network Ten she initially decided not to pursue a police complaint as she felt her job was on the line.

The young staffer said during the meeting with Senator Reynolds she was "nice" and "apologetic", but the meeting quickly turned to whether she would report the incident to police.

"And continually made me feel as if my ongoing employment would be jeopardised if I proceeded any further with the matter", she said.

"It felt like I immediately became sort of like a political wasn't a staffing problem, it wasn't a HR problem, wasn't a human problem".

She has since alleged she was raped by a government staff member, who was sacked days later.

The prime minister said there were a number of things that could be done to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future, but the government must continue to address the environment of Parliament House.

"Whether it's here or, frankly, in so many other workplaces around this country. So, I hope Brittany's call is a wake-up for all of us from that point of view".

But critics also point to a perceived lack of action when allegations of intimidation and misogyny were leveled against two government ministers late past year, saying sexism persists.

The ABC has been told the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has been asked to look at the work phone records of that particular staff member.

"I am not happy about the fact it was not brought to my attention and I can assure you people know that", he said.

Senator Reynolds, who has known about the alleged rape for almost two years, offered an unreserved apology to Ms Higgins for her handling of the complaint.

"I want to make sure that any young woman working in this place is as safe as possible", he said.

Reynolds echoed Morrison in apologizing a few hours later.

"I do apologise, that shouldn't have happened", he said.

Mr Morrison has also appointed Liberal backbencher Celia Hammond to review cultural problems around the treatment of women.

The Department of Parliamentary Services, which oversees Parliament House, said the AFP conducted enquiries into the "initial handling of the incident including whether there was any criminality identified, such as attempts to hide or interfere with a suspected crime scene".

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

Ms Higgins told Channel 10's The Project that a person in Mr Morrison's office reached out to "check in" on her past year, around the time Four Corners broadcast its story on sexism and inappropriate behaviour by the Attorney-General.

Mr Morrison has also tasked his department's deputy secretary Stephanie Foster to lead a review of how the complaints process is conducted.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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