Parliament workplace culture fix begins

·3-min read

Scott Morrison intends to get on with making parliament a safer place and won't wait for more reports to land.

His department was asked in February to look at procedures and processes at parliament, following allegations of rape and harassment of women including the alleged sexual assault of Brittany Higgins.

Federal police revealed on Tuesday they had received 40 reports about 19 allegations of misconduct linked to federal politicians and staff since Ms Higgins came forward three months ago.

Mr Morrison told parliament on Tuesday a "very useful" report from deputy secretary Stephanie Foster include how parliament can work together to support staff.

"In particular her recommendation to establish an independent complaints mechanism, which is urgently needed in this place," he said.

"I think we can get on with it now."

Mr Morrison said he had no intention of waiting for Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins' report due later this year, which is expected to tackle broader concerns about the toxic workplace and culture.

He plans to release the Foster report next week after private discussions with Labor, the Greens and others.

Mr Morrison tabled the findings of a separate investigation by his own chief of staff that he says found no evidence of media staff backgrounding journalists against Ms Higgins' partner.

Earlier, Labor had named members of the prime minister's staff during a feisty Senate estimates hearing.

The four-page report by Mr Morrison's chief of staff John Kunkel found only "hearsay" to back up the claims of backgrounding.

"I do not make a finding that negative briefing against (Ms Higgins' partner) of the sort alleged has taken place," he wrote.

"(But) my conclusion, based on the evidence presented to me, should in no way be taken as a reflection upon the honesty or sincerity of Ms Higgins."

Labor's Katy Gallagher had said one journalist who came forward and forced the hand of the prime minister to launch the investigation had since withdrawn their evidence.

She questioned why Dr Kunkel would ask the victim of an alleged rape at Parliament House in March 2019 to now demonstrate that the backgrounding occurred.

"This looks like an attempt to push back on Ms Higgins very strongly and it seems extremely unfair to me," Senator Gallagher said.

Meanwhile Ms Foster's final report found gaps in procedures and processes when it comes to responding to and preventing serious incidents, and providing support for those impacted by them.

Her initial advice led to the establishment of an independent, confidential and trauma-informed 24/7 phone support line for all staff and parliamentarians.

The final report calls for the education of managers and staff on their obligations in relation to a safe and respectful workplace, and how to recognise and call out serious incidents or patterns of behaviour in the workplace.

It also seeks an independent and confidential complaints mechanism for serious incidents, which was a key recommendation from Ms Higgins.

But retrospective claims remain problematic, especially against ex-politicians, and there is no move to mandate consequences for MPs and senators.

"Since the Brittany Higgins incident and the terrible allegations were raised publicly there have been other matters that have equally come forward," Finance Minister Simon Birmingham told a Senate estimates hearing.

He said it has been a priority in his office and for the Department of Finance to make contact with individuals and to be "as proactive as we can" to make support services available.

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