Brief of evidence on alleged Parliament House rape 'likely' to go to DPP within weeks

Former staffer Brittany Higgins' allegation that she was raped in Parliament House has sparked calls for an overhaul in workplace practices in parliamentary workplaces. Picture: Supplied
Former staffer Brittany Higgins' allegation that she was raped in Parliament House has sparked calls for an overhaul in workplace practices in parliamentary workplaces. Picture: Supplied

A brief of evidence against the man accused of raping former government staffer Brittany Higgins in a ministerial office in Parliament House is likely to be handed to the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions in coming weeks, the boss of the Australian Federal Police says.

Commissioner Reece Kershaw told the Senate estimates committee the next phase of the case was imminent, and that since Ms Higgins' allegation was made in February, a further 40 reports have been made relating to 19 incidents involving federal MPs and their staff.

"Twelve reports have been identified as sensitive investigations, 10 matters have been referred to state and territory police for assessment," he said.

The AFP was still looking into one of the reports, another one had been finalised, and seven turned out not to relate to electorate staff, ministerial staff or official establishments.

Commissioner Kershaw and officials took a question on notice how many related to Parliament House itself.

He later clarified not all were sexual offences but confirmed some of them did relate to potential crimes in that category.

"Some of them are quite sensitive and difficult so we've been able to provide advice and assist with what the correct process is," Mr Kershaw told the committee.

The allegation made by Ms Higgins, that she was raped by a fellow former staffer in the office of Minister Linda Reynolds in March 2019, and the way in which the allegation was handled both at the time and when it burst into the public domain in February this year, has again dominated Senate estimates proceedings.

At the same time, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced he received a report from Prime Minister and Cabinet deputy secretary Stephanie Foster on processes and procedures relating to serious incidents in Parliament House and associated workplaces.

The report was requested by the Prime Minister as part of the initial reaction to Ms Higgins' claim, and that she felt unsupported in the wake of the incident, and felt she had to choose between her job and going to the police.

Managers and staff in Parliament House will be subject to face-to-face training on providing a safe workplace, and an independent complaints mechanism for serious incidents will be set up, as part of the government's response to Ms Foster's recommendations.

In a statement, Mr Morrison said Ms Forster's report had made "significant findings" to address gaps in existing procedures.

The training for staff will help them "understand their obligations in relation to a safe and respectful workplace, and to recognise and respond appropriately to serious incidents or patterns of behaviour in the workplace".

The independent complaints mechanism, which has been called for by staff across ministerial and parliamentary offices, and departmental public servants, "will require consultation across the Parliament," Mr Morrison said.

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.

The major development came as Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet boss Phil Gaetjens confirmed his investigation into what knowledge Prime Minister Scott Morrison's staff had of Ms Higgins' alleged rape was expected to be finalised "within weeks".

But there are no guarantees the report's findings will be made public, as the government tries to protect the privacy of Mr Morrison's staff.

Fronting Senate estimates, Mr Gaetjens refused to disclose key details about his investigation, including how many of Mr Morrison's staff had been interviewed or if any had hired lawyers.

That prompted Labor's Katy Gallagher to accuse the government of a "triple cover up".

National Secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union Melissa Donnelly said members of the union were glad to see action.

"CPSU members and health and safety representatives have consistently advocated for safer parliamentary workplaces and worker led risk mitigation on sexual harassment and gendered violence," she said.

"As part of this, recommended mandatory training as a key step towards hazard reduction and we welcome the Foster review."

Ms Donnelly called for the Foster report to be made public so staff can see the recommendations.

"As a first step, the government must release the Foster Report and consult with employees and the union about these recommendations," she said.

- With AAP

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This story Brief of evidence on alleged Parliament House rape 'likely' to go to DPP within weeks first appeared on The Canberra Times.