Brittany Higgins has accused the Department of Parliamentary Services of being ‘negligent’ following revelations that, in the more than two years since the former ministerial staffer was allegedly raped at Parliament House, the department has not changed its policies for responding to such incidents.
Under questioning by Labor senator Katy Gallagher during Senate Estimates on Monday, DPS secretary Rob Stefanic confirmed that the relevant departmental processes had not yet been updated.
“A young woman was allegedly raped in this building a couple of years ago and I’m hearing from you guys that there is no changes that need to happen to the way that this building is managed, or security is provided, or red flags are watched or whatever — You’re saying to me nothing needs to change?” Gallagher said.
President of the Senate Scott Ryan rejected Gallagher’s assertion.
“Do not put words in my mouth, Senator Gallagher,” he said.
Two years ago a young liberal staffer was allegedly raped in the ministerial wing of Parliament House.
— Katy Gallagher (@SenKatyG) May 24, 2021
Higgins’ allegations that she was sexually assaulted by a colleague in then defence industry minister Linda Reynolds’ office in March 2019 became public earlier this year. Since then, four other women have spoken out about the same man.
Stefanic told the hearing that there was an opportunity for the department to learn from the situation, and make improvements.
“We are looking at matters of process and policy, and what we know and what we’ve learned from it is feeding into that,” he said.
But Higgins believes the department has taken too long to act.
“The fact that no changes have been made to the processes and procedures for security inside Parliament House defies belief,” she wrote on Twitter.
“Mistakes are inevitable. For the department to choose not to act in any way — over the past two years — to improve protocols is downright negligent.
“Honestly, regular licensed venues have more strenuous entry conditions and duty of care to their patrons than Parliament House has to their own staff.”
During the hearing, Gallagher asked DPS officials whether any ‘red flags’ had been raised within the department in the days after the alleged rape occurred. When asked by Ryan to clarify what she meant by red flags, Gallagher replied:
“Two people entering the building after midnight, one leaving, another one staying — a young woman. People working within DPS, I think, doing welfare checks. It’s not a normal night in the house, I wouldn’t have thought. It just strikes me as unusual that there’s a ten day period where DPS seemingly isn’t concerned about what happened that night.”
Meanwhile, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Phil Gaetjens has been conducting an inquiry into which of the prime minister’s staff knew of Higgins’ rape allegations before they were made public.
Gaetjens told Senate Estimates on Tuesday morning that the investigation was being finalised, but would not confirm whether his findings would be made public.