Report on parliamentary processes for responding to sexual assault handed to government

By Shannon Jenkins

Tuesday May 25, 2021

Stephanie Foster
Stephanie Foster. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Senior public servant Stephanie Foster has made a number of recommendations following her review into processes for responding to serious incidents at Parliament House, including sexual assault.

Foster, deputy secretary, governance at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, was tasked with reviewing such procedures and processes on February 16,  after allegations emerged that former ministerial staffer Brittany Higgins was sexually assaulted in Parliament House in 2019.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Foster had handed over her final report from the review on Tuesday morning — a day after Senate Estimates heard that policies for responding to serious incidents had not changed despite Higgins’ alleged rape occurring more than two years ago.

READ MORE: Brittany Higgins slams lack of departmental action following alleged rape

In a statement on Tuesday, Morrison said Foster’s recommendations aimed to ensure processes for responding to serious incidents are independent, empower victims, and provide victims with adequate support.

“Last night, Ms Foster provided her final report which has made a number of significant findings that address gaps in existing procedures and processes when it comes to responding to serious incidents, providing support for those impacted by them, and of a preventative nature,” he said.

“Ms Foster’s deliberations and her report have been designed deliberately to come forward with concrete steps. Throughout this process she has worked closely with the sex discrimination commissioner Ms Kate Jenkins. I hope that this report will assist the commissioner as part of her review into longer term cultural and systemic issues.”

According to Morrison, Foster has called for:

  • The implementation of a face-to-face education program helping managers and staff 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 development of an independent, confidential, complaints mechanism for serious incidents.

Morrison noted that Foster had initially advised him to implement ‘urgent’ measures, including the establishment of a 24/7, independent, confidential and trauma-informed phone support line for all staff and parliamentarians.

He said he would take her report to Cabinet, respond to the recommendations, and ‘seek to engage with all parties and parliamentarians to implement the response’.

READ MORE: PM&C official to review complaints process following sexual assault allegations

On Monday Higgins slammed the Department of Parliamentary Services after Senate Estimates heard that policies for dealing with serious incidents had not been changed in the more than two years since her alleged sexual assault.

“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.”

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