PM apologises: Staffer’s alleged rape a ‘wake-up call’
The alleged rape of a young Liberal staffer in a parliamentary office was a "wake-up" call for the Prime Minister and has sparked an overhaul of how incidents will be treated.
Mr Morrison revealed he reflected overnight on the case of former media adviser Brittany Higgins, who alleges she was raped on a couch in the office of Defence Minister Linda Reynolds in 2019, and decided more must be done to "address the environment" of parliament.
"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," he said.
Mr Morrison said he spoke about Ms Higgins' case with his wife Jenny, who had urged him to consider the matter in the context of his own daughters.
"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," he said.
"Not her doing."
Asked if he would apologise to Ms Higgins for the fact a formal employment meeting following the incident was held in the same room she was allegedly raped in, Mr Morrison said he would "happily" do so.
"That should not have happened," he said. "I do apologise."
He also expressed his horror at learning that Ms Higgins was on the verge of panic attacks each time she walked into parliament to do what she had thought would be her "dream job".
"That is tremendously upsetting," he said.
He revealed Curtin MP Celia Hammond, who has previous experience as a Vice Chancellor of Notre Dame University, would "lead a process" to identify ways "standards" and "expectations" can be further improved.
Mr Morrison also invited Labor leader Anthony Albanese to join in with the process.
Ms Higgins was 24-years-old when the alleged incident took place on March 23, 2019, just weeks before the last federal election was called.
After an evening drinking with colleagues, Ms Higgins, who was then just four weeks into her new job working for Ms Reynolds, alleges she was sexually assaulted in the minister's office by another Liberal staffer.
Ms Higgins told news.com.au the pair had agreed to share a taxi home from the event as they lived in the same direction, but instead he took her to Parliament House.
After arriving in Ms Reynolds' office, Ms Higgins said she began to feel unwell, and lay down on the couch.
She alleges she later woke up to the Liberal staffer having sex with her.
"I told him to stop," she said.
"I was crying the whole way through it."
Ms Higgins said the man left her there, but she did not exit parliament until the next morning, still wearing her cocktail dress from the evening before.
Ms Higgins said she "barely" remembered the conversation as the meeting took place in the same room she was allegedly raped.
At a second meeting Ms Higgins disclosed her alleged assault, and later reported the matter to the AFP though did not pursue the matter further at the time.
Ms Higgins said she felt her colleagues did not care about her.
"It's devastating and it's soul destroying and I think about it every day but the only thing that I know that made everyone else care about it was (where it happened) and who it was connected to," she said.
"It wasn't for concern over me, and that was really impressed upon me, like this was a political issue and this wasn't something to be shared."
ACT Policing has confirmed its investigation into the matter "remains open" after Ms Higgins initially raised it in April 2019, and a spokesman said she was free to continue with a formal complaint at any time.
Originally published as PM apologises: Staffer's alleged rape a 'wake-up call'