An in-depth review of Parliament workplace culture is underway for national govt offices
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other high-ranking authorities said they were sorry on Tuesday to every worker who had experienced sexual assault and bullying during their career in federal Parliament.
The statements were made both in the House of Representatives and the Senate on the first sitting day of the Australian Parliament, and an apology was the first part of a set of recommendations proposed.
A detailed review into the workplace culture of Australian government offices had been conducted after a female staffer alleged she was raped in minister’s office in 2019.
The review got underway last March and was headed by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins. It stated that Parliament had what was described as a “boys club” culture of “bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault,” while finding out that one in three members of staff in the parliamentary offices was a victim of sexual harassment.
The review was sparked when former Liberal staff member Brittany Higgins alleged she was raped by a colleague in a minister’s office in 2019. According to her, she was pressured not to go to the police after the incident took place ahead of the elections. She first made the allegation last February and spoke out against the “culture of silence” present in Australian political parties.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressed Ms. Higgins directly, apologizing and thanking her for her role in exposing the issue and speaking out about what many Parliament workers had experienced.
“I am sorry to Ms. Higgins for the terrible things that took place here. The place that should have been a place for safety, that turned out to be a nightmare… I am sorry for far more than that. All those that came before Ms. Higgins … but she had the courage to speak, and so here we are,” he told Parliament, adding that the people responsible for this behavior will be exposed, and that the statements made on Tuesday indicated the commitment of all members of the body to make it a safer place for all workers.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese joined Morrison’s apologies on behalf of the Labour party, and thanked Higgins for her courage as well, stating his party’s commitment to change the workplace culture.
Andrew Wallace, Speaker of the House of Representatives, as well as Slade Brockman, President of the Senate, read statements and expressed their gratitude to the people who came forward to make complaints and share their experiences.
Brittany Higgins, as well as other women who became victims of sexual harassment on the part of Australian lawmakers, were watching the statements from the gallery. Among them was Rachelle Miller, who had a relationship with Education Minister Alan Tudge and accused him of being abusive. She welcomed the official apology and said she felt “vindicated,” as quoted by local ABC News.