Television staff

Australia’s political leaders apologize to staff for sexual abuse inside Parliamentary House – Reuters

Through Associated press

CANBERRA: Australia’s political leaders have apologized to staff members who endured decades of intimidation, harassment and sexual assault inside the Parliamentary Chamber and other government offices.

The Speakers of the House of Representatives and Senate on Tuesday issued an apology on behalf of a cross-section of parties in a statement acknowledging a toxic work culture.

This culture was revealed by the inquiry of the Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins.

The inquiry was sparked by former government worker Brittany Higgins, who a year ago went public with her allegation that she had been raped by a more senior colleague in a minister’s Parliament office a few weeks before the 2019 elections.

Higgins said she felt she had to make a choice between reporting her allegations to the police or pursuing her career. She quit her government job in January last year and reported her allegation to the police.

Higgins was one of seven women to have been exempted from a pandemic ban on viewers sitting in the House’s public gallery.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison thanked Higgins for the courage she showed in making her allegations.

“I’m sorry. We’re sorry. I’m sorry for Ms Higgins for the terrible things that have happened here,” Morrison told parliament.

“The place that should have been a place of safety and contribution turned out to be a nightmare. But I’m sorry for more than that. For anyone who came before Ms Higgins and endured the same, but she had the courage to speak up, and here we are,” Morrison added.

The Associated Press does not generally identify alleged victims of sexual assault, but Higgins chose to identify himself in the media.

More than 1,700 people contributed to Jenkins’ report, including past and current staff.

Its report found that 37% of people currently in parliamentary workplaces had experienced bullying and 33% had experienced sexual harassment.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce told parliament he joined in apologizing and “acknowledging that we will do better”.

Revelations in 2018 that Joyce was expecting a baby with former press officer Vikki Campion led then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to ban his ministers from having sex with staff. Morrison upheld the ban.

Joyce in 2018 was married and had four children. He has since married Campion with whom he had two children.

Former government worker Rachelle Miller, who accused Education Minister Alan Tudge of workplace harassment and bullying during their consensual sex, was among the women allowed in the House to hear the apology.

Tudge denies ever being violent during his extramarital affair with his former press secretary, but stepped down from his ministry in December while a government department investigated his official complaint.

“It was quite emotional,” Miller told Network 10 television of the apology.

“For me, it was a real justification. I have been talking about bad behavior in Parliament for some time and I feel like these claims have been ignored,” Miller added.

Miller took a job in the public sector in 2018 and his affair predates ministers being banned from having sex with staff.

House Speaker Andrew Wallace told parliament that steps were already being taken to improve workplace culture.

Last year, an independent complaints process was established. Lawmakers and staff also received professional on-the-job training, Wallace said.

Higgins’ former colleague Bruce Lehrmann has pleaded not guilty to a charge of sex without consent and is due to stand trial in a Canberra court in June.