Wednesday, 17 February 2021
Questions without Notice
Members of Parliament: Staff
My question is to the Prime Minister. The defence minister's former acting chief of staff was the primary point of contact regarding the reported rape of Brittany Higgins. That staff member worked in the Prime Minister's office before and after the reported incident and she's now back in the Prime Minister's office. Does the Prime Minister stand by his statement yesterday that his office only became aware of the rape on Friday?
Opposition members interjecting—
particularly when they are working in an office of a sensitive nature in the Defence portfolio. It is not common practice, in my understanding, that when staff move between offices they disclose matters of other offices. It is my advice that our office became aware of this issue on 12 February of this year.
Before I call the next question, just to those interjecting, I'm trying to listen very carefully to the question and the answer, to check that both are in order. I'll deal very swiftly with those interjecting. I really want to make that clear now. The member for Mayo has the call.
Prime Minister, Brittany Higgins is not the first employee in the parliament to make serious allegations of sexual assault or inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. Today the crossbench wrote to you, the Leader of the Opposition and the presiding officers calling for an urgent external review of current procedures and practice and the formation of an independent body to oversee future complaints. Prime Minister, will you restore confidence in the parliament and support an independent external review and an external independent body?
The short answer to that question is: yes. And that's what I indicated yesterday. I thank the members of the crossbench for their letter, as I do the suggestion from the Leader of the Opposition. I met with the member for Indi earlier today and, amongst many other important matters that we discussed today—those especially relating to her electorate, in Indi—we discussed this matter as well. The matters that have been raised in the letter from the crossbench are matters that the independent inquiry should, indeed, address, and there is some overlap between the issues raised in your suggestions as has been raised by the Leader of the Opposition.
I would stress that I don't think we should presume to the conclusions of what that review should be and what it may recommend and what is the best way—because this is, ultimately, what this is about—that we can ensure that people who work in this place can get the supports that they need in the most extreme of circumstances, as has been the subject of the matters we've been addressing here over the course of this week or, frankly, in the more routine of matters, in relation to their own employment. So I think it is a useful process to do that.
These terrible events that we've been talking about this week—as we know, these are events that can occur; are not peculiar to any one employer in this place or any one party in this place, and it is about changing the environment. I would think that all members are committed to that and I would assume that in the spirit of good faith. And, as a result, this inquiry should reflect that good intent, and I will ensure that it does. I've written, as I mentioned coming into the chamber, to you today and to the other members of the crossbench and indeed to the Senate as well as to the Leader of the Opposition—he'll have that correspondence—and I look forward to that being finalised as soon as possible.