Brittany Higgins welcomes offer to meet Prime Minister Scott Morrison and discuss Parliament workplace culture
Brittany Higgins has said she welcomes the offer to speak to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and hadn’t been aware he was “willing to discuss my concerns about how my assault was handled”.
“I welcome the opportunity to meet the Prime Minister to discuss how the workplace culture in Parliament House can be improved,” Ms Higgins told 9News on Friday.
The former Liberal staffer in February claimed she had been raped in a ministerial office at Parliament House in March 2019, with news.com.au breaking the news.
Mr Morrison has said that was the first he’d heard of her allegations, which saw a man sacked over a “security breach”.
The Prime Minister has offered Ms Higgins a personal apology for the way the matter was handled and announced a review of workplace culture at Parliament.
However, he has not met with Ms Higgins in person since her allegations were made public.
In his interview with A Current Affair on Thursday night, the Prime Minister said she was offered the opportunity to speak with him and her former Employment Minister Michaelia Cash before she left.
“At the time, just before she departed, she was offered the opportunity to come and speak with me, with Minister Cash,” Mr Morrison said.
Mr Morrison said on Thursday that he would meet Ms Higgins away from Canberra to avoid the trauma of returning to parliament.
He said that offer still stood and it was “now a matter for Brittany” if and when the meeting would take place.
Mr Morrison confirmed neither he nor his staff had reached out to Ms Higgins directly, but the invitation had been “effectively made”.
“We’re happy to meet. I can understand that Brittany (might) wish to meet. She hasn’t expressed that up to this point; I understand why and that’s fine,” he told reporters on Friday.
“We’ve always sought to respect her privacy and her wishes on this. I could also appreciate that why she wouldn’t necessarily want to meet in Parliament House that would be totally understandable.
“We can arrange to meet in other cities.”
Mr Morrison has been criticised over his response to multiple allegations that have rocked parliament, ranging from sexual harassment to rape.
But he confirmed the government would respond to the Respect at Work inquiry before the budget, over a year since first receiving its recommendations.
“I have been directly involved in that process … Of those 20 (recommendations) that directly went to the Australian government, nine we responded to in the budget in October. We are responding to more,” he said.
Sex Discrimination Commission Kate Jenkins will file a report towards the end of the year, but Mr Morrison said his department will brief him over how to urgently update parliament’s complaint process before then.
“We don’t have to wait until the sex discrimination commissioner’s inquiry is finished, which is much later this year,” he said.
“We need such a process much sooner than that. That was one of the first things I initiated soon after Brittany took her story public.”
The 26-year-old has said she welcomes the steps taken by Mr Morrison to investigate the workplace culture in Canberra but that it was “long overdue”.
She has said the Government has “questions to answer” over its conduct in relation to the alleged rape and urged the Prime Minister not to engage in victim-blaming rhetoric.
Mr Morrison has faced criticism for saying his wife had urged him to take stronger action and to think about the issue as a father of two daughters.
The PM said he was “not happy” that he had not been told about the alleged sexual assault at the time.
It comes after Liberal MP Andrew Laming was forced to apologise in parliament on Thursday over allegations he slandered and harassed constituents in his Queensland seat.
Two women came forward to accuse Mr Laming of online bullying and stalking, including an allegation he took photos of one woman while hiding in a bush.
Mr Morrison said he hauled Mr Laming into his office to demand he publicly apologise for the “disgraceful” behaviour.
“He’s very clear about my expectations,” he said.
The government has also launched an investigation into the identity of a group of male staffers who shared lewd images taken within Parliament House.
One man was sacked on Monday over revelations he had shared images of himself masturbating over a female MP’s desk, revealed by Channel 10.
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham confirmed a whistleblower at the centre of the reports had co-operated with the government.
“If others are identified having undertaken similar things, then there will be similar consequences,” he told Sky News.
“There’s no tolerance for this type of behaviour. And if people are identified having engaged in such wrongdoing, then they’re going to expect to be shown the door.”
The Prime Minister also confirmed a process was under way to investigate claims sex workers were brought to Parliament House.