Australia

Calls for ‘deep systemic investigation’ into parliament culture after Brittany Higgins’ rape allegation

Gender Equity Victoria has launched a campaign calling for a broad and independent systemic investigation into parliament culture for female MPs and staffers.

The ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign is calling on the government to establish an independent investigation led by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.

“If the highest decision making body in our country, the place where we rely on laws being made for women, is unable to keep female MPs safe and their staff free from gendered violence, we just have to have a deep systemic investigation. It’s just not good enough,” Gender Equity Victoria CEO Tanja Kovac told SBS News.

The campaign comes in the wake of Brittany Higgins’ allegation that she was sexually assaulted in Parliament House by a former Liberal staffer in 2019.

Following Ms Higgins’ allegation, the government has established four separate inquiries to look into workplace culture, support for staff and processes for handling complaints.

One of those inquiries, a cross-party inquiry into workplace culture, is set to be established this week, with Finance Minister Simon Birmingham saying he hoped the inquiry would be up and run with cross-party support by the beginning of March.

Separately, there is a police inquiry into the allegations raised by Ms Higgins.

But Ms Kovac said the inquiries announced so far don’t go far enough.

“It’s not enough for there just to be individual investigations into individual incidents. If there are crimes that have been committed then they need to be investigated and prosecuted,” she said.

“But we are calling for a systemic investigation of the entire culture of parliament that is enabling this kind of behaviour.

“The investigation should be being managed by an independent statutory authority, and the person we have for that is the Sex Discrimination Commissioner. So nothing less from our perspective of having a full independent inquiry – not somebody who is a friend of the Prime Minister’s or someone else in cabinet.”

Ms Kovac said the workplace culture in parliament, along with other issues such as the online safety of women in politics, was discouraging young women from entering politics and needed to be addressed.

“Women are feeling braver and stronger to stand up and speak out. If there is a broader culture problem in parliament then we need these brave women to continue speaking out,” she said.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, you can call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.

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