Scott Morrison ‘very upset’ after reports second Liberal staffer assaulted by man who allegedly raped Brittany Higgins | Scott Morrison
Scott Morrison says he is “very upset” at reports a second woman was sexually assaulted by the same man who allegedly raped former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins, as he acknowledged Parliament House was failing in its duty of “setting the standard” for workplace culture in Australia.
The prime minister said he was disturbed by the fresh allegations, which were published by the Australian newspaper on Saturday, that a second woman, who also formerly worked as a Liberal staffer, was raped by the same ex-employee of defence minister Linda Reynolds allegedly behind the revelations that dominated political discussion in Canberra this week.
The second woman argued that if the government had adequately dealt with the incident involving Higgins in 2019, her alleged assault last year would never have occurred.
But Morrison insisted all ministers and political staffers who had knowledge of Higgins’ alleged rape sought to refer the matter to police.
Morrison also welcomed Higgins’ decision to proceed with a formal complaint to the Australian federal police about her alleged rape inside Parliament House in 2019.
However, on Saturday morning, the opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, accused the government of treating Higgins’ alleged assault as a “political problem” rather than a criminal offence and appointing Morrison’s former chief of staff to lead a review.
Reports state the second woman met the alleged rapist while working on the 2016 federal election campaign, and that they had stayed in touch in the years since, including after he left Reynolds’ office in 2019 following Higgins’ alleged rape.
The second woman claims they met up in 2020 for dinner and, after the former staffer bought her several drinks, the pair went to her home, where she was allegedly raped.
“If this had been properly dealt with by the government in 2019 this would not have happened to me,’’ she told the Australian newspaper.
Morrison, when asked on Saturday if there was merit to the claim that the second rape would not have happened had his government better addressed what happened to Higgins, said: “I’m very upset about those circumstances and particularly for the young woman who I don’t know who that is, and nor do I need to know who that is, that is a very distressing event.
“We, at all times, the ministers who had knowledge of this matter, and those who are in a senior position to the staff that had knowledge of those matters and those officers, at all times sought to have this matter fully investigated by the police.
“Now that is not something the government can force. We cannot do that. And, as a result, it had always been our position to encourage that.
“I absolutely agree that there is significant work that still remains to be done in the Parliament House work culture, that is absolutely the case.
“This has been a challenging issue for many, many years and I think we would be naive to think that it’s not a challenge that the other workplaces face all around the country. But I agree the parliament should be setting the standard.”
Higgins alleges her rape occurred in early 2019 inside Reynolds’ office. Higgins has, since the incident, resigned from her job as a Liberal staffer.
Morrison claims his office did not find out about the incident at Parliament House until last week and he was not informed until Monday.
But a text message exchange between Higgins and a fellow Liberal staffer within a fortnight of the incident calls this account into question.
In the message, the Liberal staffer said he had spoken directly with a member of Morrison’s staff. Higgins this week said at least three of Morrison’s staff had prior knowledge of the incident.
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.
But Albanese on Saturday criticised the appointment of Gaetjens, saying the review would not be independent.
He said it was clear that Higgins was “made to feel there would be consequences for her career if she pursued this matter”.
“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,” Albanese told reporters.
“We know violence against women and children is a scourge, it is prevalent in all areas of society, but the parliament of Australia should be setting an example … we should be an institution people can look to for best practice.”
Higgins has also demanded a review into the conditions under which ministerial and parliamentary staff are employed.
“Political advisers have very few protections, resources and confidential reporting mechanisms to address any workplace issues,” she said.
Morrison agreed cultural changes must be implemented.
“What I must do and continue to do is focus on ensuring that the needs of our staff are addressed, that they are safe, that those who have suffered the trauma and horror of events like this in the past are respected and that we give every support we can to ensure that the police authorities can take up these matters as discreetly as they possibly can,” he said.
Albanese said he was “shocked” by the allegations a second woman was sexually assaulted by the same man who allegedly raped Higgins.
“My heart goes out to the person concerned.”
• Australian Associated Press contributed to this report