Australia’s political leaders have apologised to staffers who have endured decades of bullying, harassment and sexual assault inside Australia’s Parliamentary House and other government offices.
The presiding officers of the House of Representatives and Senate delivered the apology on behalf of a cross-section of parties as part of a statement acknowledging a toxic workplace culture.
That culture was exposed by Australian sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins’s investigation.
The investigation was triggered by former government staffer Brittany Higgins, who went public a year ago with her allegation she had been raped by a more senior colleague in a minister's parliament-house office, weeks before the 2019 election.
Ms Higgins said she felt she had to make a choice between reporting her allegations to police or continuing her career. She quit her government job in January last year and reported her allegation to police.
She was one of seven women who were given exemptions from a pandemic ban on viewers sitting in the public gallery of the House.
Prime minister Scott Morrison thanked Ms Higgins for the courage she had shown in making her allegations.
“I am sorry. We are sorry. I’m sorry to Ms Higgins for the terrible things that took place here,” Mr Morrison told parliament.
“The place that should have been a place of safety and contribution turned out to be a nightmare. But I’m sorry for far more than that. For all of those who came before Ms Higgins and endured the same, but she had the courage to speak, and so here we are,” Morrison added.
The Associated Press does not usually identify alleged victims of sexual assault, but Ms Higgins has chosen to identify herself in the media.
More than 1,700 people made contributions to Ms Jenkins’ report, including past and present staffers.
Her report found 37 per cent of people currently in parliamentary workplaces had experienced bullying and 33 per cent had experienced sexual harassment.
House speaker Andrew Wallace told parliament action was already being taken to improve the workplace culture.
Last year, an independent complaints process was established. Lawmakers and staff had also undergone professional workplace training, Mr Wallace said.
Ms Higgins's former colleague Bruce Lehrmann has pleaded not guilty to a charge of sexual intercourse without consent and is scheduled to stand trial in a Canberra court in June. – PA