Thursday, 18 February 2021
Questions without Notice
Members of Parliament: Staff
My question is to the Prime Minister. Yesterday, Brittany Higgins issued a statement which said a current senior staffer to the Prime Minister, and Ms Higgins's former chief of staff—the same person—'continually made me feel as if my ongoing employment would be jeopardised if I proceeded any further with the matter'. Has the Prime Minister raised Ms Higgins's clear statement with his staff member?
There have been many conversations over the course of this week in relation to these issues. That is why I have asked the Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to follow through on this process, to look at these matters and to provide me and the cabinet with advice on how we can ensure that in these horrendous situations the best possible support can be provided. That is what everyone in this situation was seeking to do in the best of faith. But, as we have stated—
It can't be a clearer question. The question just goes to whether the Prime Minister has asked his senior staff member about the declaration made by Ms Higgins—about whether that is accurate and whether he has raised it with the member of his own staff. Surely we can get an answer to that. Ms Higgins deserves one.
Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition didn't understand me. What I'm saying is I have had these conversations with the member of staff. I said there have been many conversations. I'm happy to indicate I have had conversations about the support provided by the member of my staff now. She was working as the chief of staff to the Minister for Defence Industry at the time. I have discussed with her those matters and the support provided, and she indeed has indicated to me some appreciation that was also provided to her at the time in the messages that were sent to her.
We all accept that Brittany no longer feels in any way that she felt supported, particularly over the prolonged period of time well beyond that initial incident where initially the advice was followed. I note that the Australian Human Rights Commission says if an employer suspects that a criminal incident has occurred the individual should be advised to report the matter to the police, and that is indeed what the minister did at the time. The minister arranged for Brittany to have that meeting with the AFP, and that occurred on 1 April. That was followed up by a meeting between ministerials and the AFP assistant commissioner.
Everyone here tried to do the right thing. They took advice and followed the advice, and they sought to provide that support. This is what the challenge here is for us: even when that has been done, it hasn't done the job, because now Brittany clearly feels that way. That is not disputed. That is what we're seeking to apply our attention to to ensure we learn from that and that others are not in a position where they are faced with this. That is simply what we are trying to do. That is simply what we're trying to do, honestly and openly.