Years after her alleged rape in Parliament House, this woman finally gets an apology

Scott Morrison has apologised to former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins for her alleged rape in federal parliament, and other women traumatised by abuse, exploitation and harassment at the apex of Australian political power.

Feb 08, 2022, updated Feb 08, 2022
Brittany Higgins. (File image).

Brittany Higgins. (File image).

With Ms Higgins looking on from the public gallery of the parliamentary chamber as he delivered the apology, the prime minister on Tuesday warned those who had perpetrated such behaviour would be found out.

But Mr Morrison, whose ministry has been rocked by a series of scandals about the treatment of women, cautioned this process must “respect the rule of law” and “proceed on the basis of fairness and justice”.

“We don’t shy (from, or seek to) silence the valid and just complaints of people because there was fear about electoral consequences,” he said, as part of the historic apology recommended by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.

Her review of parliament’s workplace culture was triggered by Higgins’ allegation, made public a year ago, she was raped before the 2019 election by a colleague in the office of then-defence industry minister Linda Reynolds.

“I am sorry. We are sorry. I’m sorry to Ms Higgins for the terrible things that took place here,” Morrison said following an acknowledgement by House of Representatives speaker Andrew Wallace of the harm perpetrated.

“The place that should have been a place of safety and contribution turned out to be a nightmare.

“But I’m sorry for more than that, for all those who came before Ms Higgins and endured the same. But she had the courage to speak, and so here we are.”

Morrison acknowledged parliament’s longstanding culture that normalised bullying, abuse, harassment and violence.

“And that exploitation, abuse, bullying and harassment has played itself out through terrible, traumatic and harrowing experiences, harassment of staff, particularly female staff, as well as harassment of female members and senators,” the prime minister said.

“This has to change, it is changing, and I believe it will change.”

Higgins and Rachelle Miller, a former staffer to Liberal minister Alan Tudge who alleged he was emotionally and physically abusive, were among women invited at the last minute to watch the apology.

Ms Miller has refused to participate in a departmental inquiry ordered by the prime minister into her allegations on the grounds the terms of reference and time frame are designed to guarantee a positive result for the government.

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The parliamentary apology was among 28 initiatives called for by Ms Jenkins who found one-third of staff surveyed across Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces had been sexually harassed.

“It is clear that practical and cultural changes are necessary to make our parliamentary workplaces safer,” Morrison said. He has repeatedly insisted parliament is now safer for women than a year ago.

Child sexual abuse survivor and former Australian of the Year Grace Tame tweeted “proactive, preventative measures” were needed instead of “performative, last-minute bandaid electioneering stunts”.

Mr Wallace and Senate President Slade Brockman opened the first sitting day of 2022 by acknowledging unacceptable and wrong conduct had occurred in the building.

“While we know we cannot undo the harm that has already been done, we are committed to acknowledging the mistakes of the past and continuing to build safe and respectful workplaces,” Wallace said.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese also said sorry, as did Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Greens leader Adam Bandt.

Mr Albanese said Higgins had “torn through a silence that has acted as the life support system for the most odious of status quos”.

“To describe your experiences is to relive them … That took a level of courage that you should never have needed to show.”

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