Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins said her discussion with the Prime Minister about the culture at Parliament House was “difficult” but by the end there was a “consensus” that change is needed.
Ms Higgins, who triggered a national discussion on sexual assault after she went public with allegations she had been raped in a minister’s office in Parliament House, met with Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday to discuss reforming the workplace culture.
“He fundamentally seemed to understand what had happened to me … that was encouraging,” Ms Higgins told reporters after the meeting.
“It was a difficult conversation, it was robust, but ultimately, in the end, I think there was a consensus that reform needs to happen.”
The pair had a “frank and honest” exchange, Ms Higgins said, covering topics including the need to reform legislation that staffers are hired under and known as the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act (MoPS), which allows MPs to sack staffers on the spot.
Ms Higgins has argued that the Act creates an imbalance of power and fails to protect staffers.
Although Ms Higgins said there was a “divergence of opinions”, she believed Mr Morrison had understood what happened to her, and said she was hopeful change would come.
“Progress moves slowly. I am hopeful that it’s going to happen. I guess time will tell,” she said.
In a statement following the meeting, Mr Morrison thanked Ms Higgins for her “contribution” to his government and “acknowledged her courage in coming forward and assisting in this work”.
“We are committed to reform of the parliamentary workplace,” he said.
“I look forward to her participating in the ongoing discussions on this matter through the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces.”
Ms Higgins attended Friday’s meeting armed with statistics about sexual assault in Australian workplaces.
She was accompanied to the meeting by several advocates, including businesswoman Wendy McCarthy AO.
Ms McCarthy’s activism has included being one of 80 women in the 1970s who put her full name to an advertisement declaring she had received a then-illegal abortion, and telling police to come and arrest her.
Victims of Crime Commissioner for the ACT Heidi Yates was also at the meeting, as was Ms Higgins’ partner David Sharaz.
Ms Higgins also met with Labor leader Anthony Albanese earlier in the day. After, she told reporters it had been a “constructive meeting” and she was “grateful” for his time.
Mr Albanese said it was an “opportunity for him to listen”.
“We need to listen to women and listen to their concerns, to listen to the experience that they’ve gone through and to listen to their views about solutions,” he said.
“It gives me great hope for this country that people like Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins have emerged as courageous women.”