Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has apologised to a former political adviser who has alleged she was raped by a senior colleague in a minister’s office in parliament. Brittany Higgins said she had feared losing her job after the 2019 incident, and had little support from her bosses.
Ms Higgins, 26, gave a TV interview on Monday that has prompted shock and outrage over her treatment, Mr Morrison apologised for the way Ms Higgins’ complaint was handled. The allegations are now under a renewed police investigation. Mr Morrison said he was “shattered” by her claims, and had called for a review into parliament’s environment and culture. “I hope Brittany’s call is a wake-up call for all of us,” he told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday, but Mr Morrison was also drew criticism for saying he better comprehended the allegations after considering them as a father of two girls.
She said she was offered her a lift home by an older male colleague at the end of a night out, but instead he took her to Parliament House. 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. “I woke up mid-rape essentially,” she told Network Ten. ” I started crying… I told him to stop” She said the man left immediately afterwards, and she wasn’t offered assistance by security guards on her way out of parliament. In the days following, Ms Higgins said she felt Ms Reynolds’ office aimed to “manage” the situation, downplaying her trauma.
“It felt like I became… it immediately became a political problem,” she said. Ms Higgins said Ms Reynolds told her she would be supported if she pursued a police complaint, but she ultimately chose not to in 2019 because she believed it would jeopardise her career. She said the meeting with the minister was also held in the room where the alleged attack took place. “There was a loop happening in my mind of this trauma that I’d just sort of come to terms with and I thought it was unfathomable that they would put me in such a place again,” she said.
Ms Higgins said her alleged attacker was removed from the minister’s office, she worked for another minister in Mr Morrison’s Liberal Party before quitting politics. Mr Morrison apologised specifically for the meeting in Ms Reynolds’ office, where Ms Higgins alleges the rape took place. He said such an event “should not have happened”, saying it would spark a review of the complaints procedure in parliament. The prime minister also announced a review into the professional culture of parliament, saying problems crossed over party lines. “I want to make sure that any young woman working in this place is as safe as possible,” he said.
On Monday, Mr Morrison acknowledged Ms Higgins’ allegations in parliament but did not commit to further action. But he said he was taking a stronger response on Tuesday after watching her interview and speaking with his wife, who had helped to “clarify” his views. “She said to me: ‘You have to think about this as a father first. What would you want to happen if it were our girls?'” His comments have drawn much criticism online from women who suggested that Mr Morrison should not need to do that. “It should not take a man having a daughter for him to treat women who’ve been assaulted with empathy and respect,” wrote author Jamila Rizvi on Twitter.
Ms Higgins’ case has refocused public scrutiny on the treatment of women in Australian politics. Last year an ABC investigation aired allegations of inappropriate behaviour by ministers within the conservative government. At the time, Mr Morrison was also criticised for interrupting a female minister who was responding to a question about what it’s like to be a woman in parliament.