World Media

Aussie PM promises probe into alleged rape in Parliament

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds was aware of the allegation and said Ms Higgins was offered ongoing support throughout

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison apologised on Tuesday to a woman who alleged she was raped in the country's parliament by an unnamed colleague, and promised a thorough investigation into the government's workplace culture.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison apologized Tuesday to a former government staffer who alleged that she was raped by a colleague in Parliament House two years ago.

"That should not have happened, and I do apologize", Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

The man she accused, who has not been named, was sacked for a security breach in taking Higgins into the minister's office and leaving her there on a couch after a night of heavy drinking. "What would you want to happen if it were our girls?" he said.

'Jenny has a way of clarifying things.

"I have to say my heart sank for Brittany when I heard what had occurred to her, and her circumstances", he said.

Ms Higgins said she was drunk and feel asleep in Defence Industry Minister Linda Reynolds' office, before waking to find the man sexually assaulting her.

According to Morrison, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet official Stephanie Foster will investigate how workplace complaints in Parliament are dealt with.

Australia's parliament has been criticised for a "toxic" workplace culture that has allegedly spawned bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct against women.

'We need to not only show and behave in a way that Australians expect us to, we need to make sure that Australians are confident that there are processes in this place to hold people to account when they don't'.

The opposition questioned how Morrison could continue to have confidence in Reynolds since she hadn't told him of the alleged rape.

According to Higgins, the accused offered to escort her home after Friday night drinks in March 2019 and instead took her to parliament, saying he needed to "pick something up".

When she announced she was leaving, he offered to get a cab with her because he was heading in the same direction, she said.

While she thanked Morrison for his apology, Higgins said the Prime Minister's announcement of an investigation into Parliament House culture was "long overdue".

"I was raped inside parliament". I was crying. He wasn't even looking at me.

"I felt like a weird sort of a HR, ticking a box moment", she said.

Ms Higgins herself has called for an independent reporting mechanism along with a comprehensive review of the laws that govern ministerial offices.

She said the man left immediately afterwards.

Mr Morrison apologised specifically for the meeting in Ms Reynolds' office, where Ms Higgins alleges the rape took place.

The following Monday after the incident, the man resigned for being in the office after hours.

Higgins, who was Reynolds' media adviser, said she decided not to pursue a police complaint at the time because she felt pressure that doing so would affect her employment.

She worked for Senator Michaelia Cash before resigning from government last month.

Ms Higgins' case has refocused public scrutiny on the treatment of women in Australian politics.

The advocate for survivors of sexual assault, particularly in institutional settings, was cited by Ms Higgins as her inspiration for speaking up.

'Of course I'm aware of today's reports, and I'm extremely concerned about the wellbeing of my former staff member.

Reynolds on Monday confirmed she had been told of the complaint in 2019, though she denied the woman was pressured against making a police complaint.

'At the time of my initial meeting with the staff member I was not aware of the details or the circumstance of the alleged incident in my office. The meeting was conducted in the same room where she was allegedly violated.