Senate debates

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Members of Parliament: Staff

3:07 pm

Photo of Matt O'SullivanMatt O'Sullivan (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

The matters raised here today are, of course, very, very concerning. I can't imagine what Ms Higgins must be going through, particularly considering the fact that these issues are being discussed by us all and they're obviously very private issues for her. But it is very important that things do change; there is no doubt about that. There is a sensitivity, though, that must be observed when we're talking about such issues. The Prime Minister has said that the government takes these matters very seriously, that all matters of workplace safety must be taken seriously and that anyone who works in this place, whether they're working for a member of government or as part of the staff that help run this magnificent facility and institution here or in electorate offices around the country, must feel that they are working in a safe workplace.

The reports of the alleged sexual assault in 2019 in the minister's office are deeply distressing. Throughout the process the overriding concern of the government has always been to support Ms Higgins's welfare in whatever way possible. However, it's clear that more needs to be done, and the Prime Minister has announced, both yesterday in answers to questions at a press conference and in the other place today in answering questions, that the process that he has put in place will ensure that a thorough process is gone through to establish whatever changes are necessary within practices and within procedures. The Prime Minister has approached my good friend and colleague from Western Australia Celia Hammond, the member for Curtin. Celia was previously a vice-chancellor of Notre Dame and had to deal with situations in that institution when she was vice-chancellor. She's very well established and highly respected. She will be working with MPs in the government on a process to identify ways that standards, expectations and practices can be further improved.

Further to that, there is Stephanie Foster, the deputy secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. I sit on committees and in estimates when Ms Foster presents. While I don't know her personally, I see the way that she conducts herself through estimates and through committees. She is certainly an outstanding official and is thoroughly independent in the way that she works. In the role that she will play in undertaking a review and advising the Prime Minister on how processes can be improved, I have no doubt that she will do an outstanding job and will ensure that every avenue that needs to be explored will be explored. I think the parliament can be confident of that when she undertakes this role because I know that she is someone who is respected on all sides.

We understand that this is a matter that is under police investigation. Of course, we must respect that and follow the necessary processes to ensure that that remains consistent and that there is no prejudice of that procedure, that undertaking, at all. This is an important step that the government has consistently supported from the outset, and we will of course await the outcome of that process.

As a country, we are dealing with many things. We have a nation dealing with the COVID pandemic and the ramifications of that. Senator Green asked a question about the impact of JobKeeper. I'd actually rather be taking my time here now to talk about the impact that JobKeeper has had and the impact that it has on protecting jobs. In my home state of Western Australia, some 350,000-odd jobs were saved and protected as a result of that program. I wish I could have spent my time today talking about the impact of that because that is what we know has had a big impact in Western Australia. (Time expired)


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