Senate debates

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Members of Parliament: Staff

3:12 pm

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

Like so many Australians, I was shocked and appalled by the revelations of the past few days that a young woman, a ministerial staffer, had suffered and was traumatised by an alleged rape in the minister's office on the minister's couch. It is shocking to even utter those words in the Australian parliament in 2021. I am feeling sick to my stomach, as I know so many Australians will be, at this news of a woman who, so excited, so full of idealism to come and work in the nation's parliament, was, after this alleged rape, so discarded, so diminished, so ignored and left so alone by the very people she came here to support and promote.

There is still this culture in this country and, most disturbingly, in this parliament. It pains me to say it but, after story upon story of allegations of bullying and sexual assault in the Liberal Party, there's a culture, clearly, that does not respect women, does not support them and does not believe them. This is completely unacceptable. I think we need to examine the fact that, when the Prime Minister took over from Malcolm Turnbull, he, in response to those allegations of bullying, promised and announced a robust process to ensure that these allegations would be taken seriously. It was another announcement with no delivery. That robust process has not been delivered.

The Prime Minister would also have us believe that his office apparently found out about this alleged horrific crime—a sexual assault, the rape of a staffer in his government—only last week. This claim of the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, strains credulity, as Malcolm Turnbull said. We know that the then chief of staff to Linda Reynolds previously worked for Scott Morrison and is now back working for Scott Morrison. We know from Ms Higgins's own evidence, her own testimony on national television, that the Prime Minister's principal private secretary was around the office, involved in the conversation, helping to fix and manage the problem. And that's how Ms Higgins described it: she felt like she was a problem to be managed; she felt like she was a political problem to be sent away. She absolutely felt pressure to choose between her job in the Morrison government and seeking justice for her alleged rape.

The Prime Minister would have us believe that no-one in his office knew about this alleged rape until last week. The government's own statement this week, after Ms Higgins's interview, says that the Prime Minister's office was involved back in March 2019 in assisting Minister Reynolds's office with this particular incident. So which is right: the government's statement or the Prime Minister's statement in the parliament? They can't both be right.

This is a Prime Minister who does not like accountability, does not like transparency and does not deliver. But here he has failed to deliver in the most extraordinary way, letting down every woman, every person, who works in this building and letting down women right across Australia. This Prime Minister stood up and said the gravity of the situation only became clear to him when his wife reminded him that he had daughters. You don't have to be a man with daughters to understand that rape is a violent crime, an assault on a woman; that it should be taken seriously; that she should be supported; and that it should be thoroughly investigated. All across Australia people shook their heads in confusion as to how the Prime Minister of this country could not just respond as a human being. The Prime Minister, the Minister for Defence and the Morrison government continue to compound Brittany's trauma by not getting their stories straight. (Time expired)


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