News ‘Parliament needs to be exemplary’: Equality advocates call for review as PM admits ‘problem’
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‘Parliament needs to be exemplary’: Equality advocates call for review as PM admits ‘problem’

Brittany Higgins' allegations have shed light on the treatment of women in the halls of power.
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Gender-based violence experts are calling for an independent review into the culture of Parliament House as another woman alleges rape and the PM admits there is a problem.

The calls come as a second woman alleges she was raped by the same Liberal advisor accused of raping Brittany Higgins when she worked in Defence Minister Lynda Reynolds’ office.

The woman, also a former Liberal staffer, told the Australian the same man raped her last year after the pair had dinner and drinks.

“If this had been properly dealt with by the government in 2019 this would not have happened to me,” she told the newspaper, on the condition of anonymity.

“I am telling my story because I want to support Brittany (Higgins) and I want to help shine a light on this awful culture.”

Serious questions have been raised about how the government has handled Brittany Higgins’ allegation and the broader culture at Parliament House.

Now gender-based violence experts are calling for an independent review, saying the public has a right to know just how far this goes.

Gender Equity Victoria chief executive Tanja Kovac said Australia needed a similar review of parliament to that undertaken by the European Union.

Leading campaigners against sexual assault are calling for a review. Photo: AAP

According to the 2018 EU review one in four women parliamentarians and 40 per cent of female parliamentary staff said they had been subjected to sexual harassment or assault.

Ms Kovac said there were big questions that needed to be answered about the prevalence of sexist culture in Australia’s parliament.

“How prevalent is it? How bad is it for women staffers working in parliamentary offices?” she said.

Ordinary citizens have a right to know that. I think we need to ask some of these questions.”

Ms Kovac said there was clearly an issue with how women were treated.

“Part of thinking it is okay to take a drunk girl into an office is because the culture says it’s okay,” she said.

“Enough is enough!”

Parliament should be held to the highest standard, Ms Kovac said.

“You cannot have the places of power being risky and unsafe workplaces for women,” she said.

Mr Morrison has defended his government’s handling of the allegations. Photo: AAP

“If we can’t get it right in that house, where they are making the laws of our land, how are we expected to get it right in other houses and other workplaces?

“Parliament needs to be exemplary.”

On Saturday, Mr Morrison defended his government’s handling of the allegations while admitting there was a “problem” with the culture at Parliament House, saying there was “significant work” to be done.

“This has been a challenging issue for many, many years,” he said.

On Friday afternoon Brittany Higgins called for her alleged rapist to face the “full force of the law”, announcing she would proceed with a formal complaint to the Australian Federal Police.

“I am determined to drive significant reform in the way the Australian parliament handles issues of this nature and treats ministerial and parliamentary staff more generally,” she said in a statement.

Rape continues to go under-reported

One in six women in Australia has experienced sexual assault, according to the last national report by the Australia Institute of Welfare.

Released last year, it found sexual assault was was “a major health” issue in Australia.

But in nine times out of 10, the woman didn’t go to the police and from the ones that did, only a small number saw a conviction.

Victim-blaming attitudes and condoning violence against women, such as views around what they wear, mean many women fear coming forward, said Our Watch CEO Patty Kinnersly.

“Other reasons include fear of retaliation from the perpetrator, not thinking the rape or sexual assault is serious enough to report, or feeling ashamed,” Ms Kinnersly said.

Scott Morrison has admitted there is a problem with the culture in Canberra. Photo: AAP

“A lack of faith in organisations’ and the criminal justice systems’ ability to respond sensitively and take appropriate action is also a reason often cited by survivors.”

She said to change the system, so sexual assault and harassment was treated properly, women first needed to be believed.

“We know from the evidence that one of the drivers of violence against women is the condoning of it, excusing or downplaying men’s actions, and systems that don’t appropriately respond to violence when it occurs and ensure accountability,” she said.

“When survivors tell their stories, these false beliefs can be challenged, helping the community build new and better social norms that make it clear that violence against women is always wrong.”

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