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Monday, June 14, 2021

Aussie PM seeks to improve complaint handling following alleged rape of former gov’t staffer

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CANBERRA (Xinhua) — Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison seeks to improve the handling of complaints after a former government staffer alleged she was raped in Parliament House.

Brittany Higgins, a former media adviser, on Monday alleged she was raped in the office of then-Defence Industry Minister Linda Reynolds by a colleague in March 2019.

She said that in the days following the incident she was called to a meeting with Reynolds, now the minister for defence, to discuss it in the same room where it occurred.

When asked at a press conference Tuesday morning if he would apologize for that meeting in Reynolds’s office, Morrison said “I do apologize. That shouldn’t have happened.”

“There should not be an environment where a young woman can find herself in such a vulnerable situation. That is not OK,” the prime minister said.

He said that he has asked Stephanie Foster, a senior bureaucrat in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, to establish a new external process for handling complaints from women within the Liberal Party.

“One issue I’m going to ask her to look at…is that where there are incidents that involve alleged assault, particularly alleged sexual assault, then we should consider that such a matter be immediately, by matter of process, be referred to the Department and for the Department to step in so there is an arm’s-length arrangement in terms of how the individual – in this case, Brittany – would be able to fully understand and be supported, completely outside that office, or any other office, for that matter,” he said.

Higgins, who resigned from her government job on Monday said she intends to restart a police complaint about the alleged incident.

She said that she did not pursue a complaint at the time because of fears it could affect her job.

“We were already coming up against so many blocks and I realized my job was on the line. I didn’t feel like I had a choice,” Higgins told Network Ten television.

“There is a strange culture of silence in the parties. The idea of speaking out on these sorts of issues, especially around an election campaign, is just like letting the team down, you are not a team player.”

“I was pretty suicidal to be honest at the time, because you are just alone. It was really hard.”

She said that an investigation into the culture in Parliament House was “long overdue.”

“It should not have taken my story, or the story of other victim-survivors to air on national television for the Prime Minister or any member of parliament to take action on workplace sexual harassment, assault or bullying,” she said. (Xinhua)

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