Former staffer slams PM's 'victim-blaming'

·3-min read

The former Liberal staffer who was allegedly raped at Parliament House has criticised the prime minister's "victim-blaming rhetoric" over the incident, saying it's distressing to her and other survivors.

Brittany Higgins alleges she was sexually assaulted by a male colleague in a ministerial office in 2019.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, who employed Ms Higgins at the time, has known about the incident for nearly two years but did not tell Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Ms Higgins went public with her story this week, which she says has resulted in her finding out key elements of what happened.

That includes finding out security guards had let her and the alleged perpetrator into Parliament House.

"I didn't know that security guards came into the office multiple times seeing me in a state of undress," Ms Higgins said in a statement on Wednesday.

"I didn't know they were undertaking an internal review into how the matter was handled at the time. I didn't know that they debated calling an ambulance at the time of the incident.

"The continued victim-blaming rhetoric by the prime minister is personally very distressing to me and countless other survivors."

Ms Higgins says she has been denied access to CCTV footage of her from that evening by a senior staffer to Mr Morrison and her former chief-of-staff.

"And (they) continually made me feel as if my ongoing employment would be jeopardised if I proceeded any further with the matter," she said.

"The government has questions to answer for their own conduct."

Ms Higgins went on to work for senior minister Michaelia Cash, who says the pair first spoke about the alleged rape on February 5.

"I offered to go directly to the AFP with her so she could provide them with a statement," Senator Cash told parliament.

"She advised me that she did not want to pursue it.

"I also offered to go to the prime minister's office - she said no. She advised me that at all times she wanted her privacy respected."

Ms Cash said she then accepted Ms Higgins' resignation.

It's understood she will now pursue the allegation with police.

Mr Morrison remains under intense scrutiny over what he knew about the incident.

The prime minister says his office only found out about the allegations last week and he was not aware until Monday.

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said he found the timeline very hard to believe.

"I find it inconceivable that it wasn't well known to at least key members of the prime minister's staff," he told the ABC.

"If it wasn't, there was clearly an absolutely baffling breakdown in communications."

The prime minister's account is at odds with Ms Higgins', who says at least two of his staff were involved in handling the complaint, including one senior aide who checked in with her several months ago.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said he believed Ms Higgins and has put pressure on Senator Reynolds to be sacked.

Mr Morrison has rebuked the minister for failing to tell him about the allegations but denies his government has a "don't ask, don't tell" policy towards sexual assault.

Labor frontbencher Katy Gallagher told parliament the minister was "wilfully negligent" as an employer and needed to take responsibility.

The assault allegation has sparked calls for an independent complaints body to be established in Parliament House.

Crossbench MPs say the complaints body needs to exist outside the Department of Finance, which handles such matters.

Mr Albanese has backed their calls, saying an internal government or Liberal Party review would not be enough.

Mr Morrison has established two inquiries and also agreed to Labor's call for an independent review into workplace culture inside Parliament House.