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 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.
Earlier on Monday, secretary of the Department of Parliamentary Services Rob Stefanic told a Senate estimates hearing 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 Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins occurred in March 2019.
Asked if he was satisfied the department did all it could to provide a safe place for Ms Higgins, Mr Stefanic said there was always an opportunity to learn and make improvements.
Senator Reynolds’ treatment of Ms Higgins also continues to be questioned, along with what senior ministers knew at the time.
Under a grilling from Labor senator Katy Gallagher, officials were unable to answer questions about who made the decision to “deep clean” Senator Reynolds’ office on the weekend of the alleged sexual attack, citing ongoing investigations.
“A young woman was allegedly raped in this building a couple of years ago and I am hearing from you guys there are no changes that need to happen?,” she said.
“To the way this building is managed? Or security is provided? Red flags are watched? You’re saying to me nothing needs to change.”
Senate President Scott Ryan interrupted to insist Senator Gallagher’s questions were unfair. But he conceded the memorandum of understanding with federal police was “very old” and said federal police had been involved over the past two years in talks about procedures.
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.
A broader inquiry is looking at the work culture at parliament and in electorate offices around the country.
Senator 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.
“That is something that I strictly adhere to and the Speaker and I always reinforce.”
Mr Stefanic said nobody’s employment would be at risk from cooperating 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.