Two years after an alleged rape at Parliament House, no changes to policy have been made to help staff respond to serious incidents.
But Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Parliament during Question Time on Monday that a report will be with him “very very shortly” and an independent complaints process – which he would discuss with Labor to gain bipartisan support – will be in place this year.
Secretary of the Department of Parliamentary Services Rob Stefanic told a Senate estimates hearing earlier there had been discussions but “no formal changes in policy”.
The department is responsible for building access and cleaning, including in the ministerial office where the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins occurred in March 2019.
The fact that no changes have been made to the processes and procedures for security inside Parliament House defies belief.
Mistakes are inevitable. For the Department to choose not to act in any way – over the past two years – to improve protocols is downright negligent. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/DLEfzN3xS0
— Brittany Higgins (@BrittHiggins_) May 24, 2021
Asked if he was satisfied the department did all it could to provide a safe place for the former Liberal staffer, Mr Stefanic said there was always an opportunity to learn and make improvements.
Ms Higgins said on Twitter the fact no changes had been made to security inside Parliament House “defies belief”.
“Mistakes are inevitable. For the Department to choose not to act in any way – over the past two years – to improve protocols is downright negligent,” she tweeted.
“Honestly, regular licensed venues have more strenuous entry conditions and duty of care to their patrons than Parliament House has to their own staff.”
The Parliament has come under scrutiny as a toxic workplace for years.
The Morrison government has taken steps to beef up funding for safety for women and girls across Australia – at home and at work – and set up a task force for change.
It also opened up new counselling services for parliamentary staff.
Ms Tame was speaking to The Betoota Advocate podcast about pedophilia, grooming and psychological abuse, which she described as “vile, that messes with your whole life”.
“And if you don’t absolutely oppose it, you therefore condone it,” she said.
“And so I just, I don’t think that she’s the adequate person for the job.”
Mr Morrison was also questioned in Parliament about why he said to Ms Tame, “Gee, I bet it felt good to get that out”, after her award acceptance speech.
“That is exactly what I meant,” he said.
“It was a very proud moment for her and her great struggle and challenge over a long period of time and what she did on that occasion was speak with a very strong voice about what had occurred to her.”
Senator Reynolds’ treatment of Ms Higgins remains under scrutiny, along with what senior ministers knew at the time.
Officials were unable to answer questions on Monday about who made the decision to “deep clean” Senator Reynolds’ office on the weekend of the alleged sexual attack, citing ongoing investigations.
A broader inquiry is looking at the work culture at Parliament and in electorate offices around the country.
Senate President Scott Ryan told the hearing no one should be fearful of participating in the inquiry.
“The rules on parliamentary privilege are absolute and that goes to participation in an inquiry in the building,” he said.
Mr Stefanic said nobody’s employment would be at risk from co-operating with police.
The Australian Federal Police face no block to accessing parliamentary footage as they investigate the alleged rape.
Clerk of the Senate Richard Pye said there was nothing to suggest the footage was a matter of privilege, but made sure the occupant of the suite – Senator Reynolds – was aware of the request.
He said Senator Reynolds had wanted to see incident reports during the week following the incident.
The AFP investigation continues, as does an “arm’s length” inquiry by Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s head of department.