Editorial: Parliament House security officers and duty of care

By Chris Johnson

Wednesday February 24, 2021

Adobe

Just a little over three years ago I was making my way to an evening event at Parliament House in Canberra where the then-foreign minister would be speaking.

It was an important reception for one of the many foreign embassies located in the capital and I had a minor role to play.

Before arriving, I picked up my teenage daughter from a friend’s home. It was there that we both got attacked by German shepherd dogs (coincidentally owned by foreign diplomats, but from a different country to the reception’s host).

After attending to my 15-year-old, I later continued onto the Parliament House event with a tear in my pants as well as in my thigh.

It wasn’t until I walked into the building that I realised that I was actually in some pain and was bleeding.

I approached a security guard and told him I had been bitten by a dog before arriving and was suddenly bleeding.

I didn’t recognise this guy, but for a few moments we became best mates as he took me aside to a small security office and attended to my wound. He cleaned it up, disinfected it and taped on some padded gauze.

He called over other officers (male and female), including his supervisor, who all made sure I was ok, logged the incident, and insisted that I seek medical attention – and get a tetanus shot – as soon as possible. Did I want them to call ambulance? All good thanks. As I left the office to make my way to the reception, my new friend and I even shared a laugh about how sore I was going to feel the next morning.

I am familiar with a number of security officers at Parliament House. Enough to say hello to some along the corridors. But I didn’t know anyone on this particular shift.

I was a stranger to them, and they couldn’t have taken better care of me.

And my misfortune didn’t even take place on the premises. Yet they still felt a duty of care towards me, acting swiftly and professionally on a busy night.

Reflecting on that incident over the past few days, it’s not at all surprising to me that, according to news reports, a former director of security operations at Parliament House quit over the handling of the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins.

What does baffle me is why a young woman in an obviously distressed state was not afforded the same professionalism and level of care that I got. Her situation was far more serious. It seems, at best, there was a debate over whether to call her an ambulance. At worst, there has possibly been a massive cover up of the episode.

While no real comparison at all can be made between the two incidents, one common denominator is that security guards were made aware in each circumstance and they reacted.

The difference in those reactions and the level of care administered is confronting for me.

Was it because what happened to Brittany Higgins took place behind closed doors in a minister’s office?

Is it because political protection trumps personal care?

Or is it simply that I’m a bloke?

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