Brittany Higgins says it is “disappointing” she hasn’t been able to yet lock in a meeting with Scott Morrison, despite weeks of trying.
“It’s disappointing that I haven’t heard back from his office, despite the Prime Minister’s repeated commentary about a proposed meeting,” Ms Higgins said on Wednesday, as she took her scheduling issues public.
The former Liberal staffer, who alleges she was raped by a former colleague in 2019 inside the Parliament House office of then defence minister Linda Reynolds, has led calls for change in culture around sexism and misconduct in politics.
She has a list of urgent safety reforms she wants to discuss with the Prime Minister.
Despite parliament pressing on with several investigations and reviews around the circumstances of Ms Higgins’ alleged rape, and wider cultural or workplace issues within politics, she says she has struggled to organise meetings with those at the highest echelons of power.
Mr Morrison has said publicly said he wants to meet Ms Higgins, telling A Current Affair on March 25 he was “happy to have the conversation, and if she would like to, then we will arrange that”.
On April 14, he again said he was “looking forward to meeting with Brittany” and that “arrangements are being put in place”.
In a letter to the PM’s chief of staff, John Kunkel, Ms Higgins said she had “publicly and privately welcomed the opportunity to meet”, but was frustrated that nearly a month after the PM’s offer, no date had been set.
“As I made clear in my public statements, I consider this an incredibly important opportunity to fix a broken system and ensure no other staff has to experience something similar in Parliament House again,” Ms Higgins wrote to Dr Kunkel, in a letter obtained by The New Daily.
“In the wake of a national conversation about consent and harassment in the workplace, it is my hope that parliament will implement meaningful reform and seek to lead by example into the future.”
Ms Higgins said she would be in Canberra from April 28-30, asking if that could be a suitable time to meet the PM. She said she would like to bring “advocates” with her, to act “as support”, but did not detail exactly who they would be.
Ms Higgins has attracted high-profile support since coming forward with her story in February, including from media personalities, equality advocates, and anti-assault campaigners.
TND has contacted the Prime Minister’s office for comment. When asked about Ms Higgins’ complaint at a press conference on Wednesday, Mr Morrison said plans to schedule the meeting were “in process”.
“It is an important meeting and I’m looking forward to having it. We’ve been following up on that now, and I look forward to having a meeting arranged soon,” he said.
In March, Ms Higgins lodged a formal complaint with the PM’s office over claims his staff allegedly “backgrounded” journalists with negative information about her partner.
“What happened to me inside Parliament House doesn’t and shouldn’t have to happen to anyone else,” Ms Higgins told TND.
“If the government isn’t committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of their own staff, what certainty can the women of Australia have that they will be proactive in looking out for their interests.”
Six ideas to address ‘systemic coercive control’ in parliament
In her letter to Dr Kunkel, Ms Higgins outlines six key areas she would like to discuss with the PM, from basic security concerns inside Parliament House to wider employment contract changes to better protect staff.
She called the current Department of Finance reporting system for staff complaints “largely impotent”, suggesting instead an independent and confidential ombudsman to monitor staff conduct and concerns.
Ms Higgins also hopes Mr Morrison will consider changes to the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act, which allows politicians to hire and fire employees essentially at will. It has been raised as a key reason why staffers might be reluctant to report allegations of serious misconduct.
“The legislation should change this by making staff terminations more in-line with the norm outlined in the Fair Work Act 2009,” she said.
She also called for the ‘star chamber’, a shadowy internal parliamentary employment process that makes judgments on which staff should be promoted to important offices, to have greater “transparency”.
Ms Higgins said security staff at Parliament House should better trained to “refuse access to a clearly inebriated person at 1am over the weekend” and “call an ambulance in the wake of finding a partially naked unconscious women who had been left alone for hours”.
Those relate to specific circumstances she says relate to her alleged rape.
“There are a number of measures that could be adopted to counter the systemic coercive control inside Parliament House and help address the power disparity between staffers and parliamentarians,” Ms Higgins said.