AFP received influx of government-related sexual misconduct complaints this year

By Shannon Jenkins

Tuesday May 25, 2021

'I’ve seen huge changes over my time in the public service,' says communications expert Dale Starr
‘I’ve seen huge changes over my time in the public service,’ says communications expert Dale Starr. (Image: Adobe/max blain)

The Australian Federal Police has this year received 19 separate allegations of sexual misconduct involving federal politicians and staffers within a three-month period, Senate Estimates has heard.

AFP commissioner Reece Kershaw told estimates on Tuesday that the AFP had received 40 reports relating to 19 allegations between February 24 and May 17.

Kershaw revealed that 12 of the reports were considered ‘sensitive’ investigations, 10 have been referred to state and territory police, one remains with the AFP for ongoing inquiries, and one has been finalised.

“Seven matters do not relate to electorate officers, ministerial staff or official establishments. Of those, five have been referred to state and territory police, and two concluded with no criminal offence identified,” he said.

The influx of reports was sparked by a letter that Kershaw sent to politicians in February, regarding the complaints process, just days after former ministerial staffer Brittany Higgins publicly alleged that she was raped at Parliament House in 2019.

Four other women have spoken out against Higgins’ alleged perpetrator since her story broke on February 15.


READ MORE: Report on parliamentary processes for responding to sexual assault handed to government


Kershaw also told estimates that the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions was ‘likely’ to receive a brief of evidence on the Higgins case in the coming weeks.

Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that he had received senior public servant Stephanie Foster’s final report on her review into processes for responding to serious incidents at Parliament House. Higgins’ allegations prompted the Foster review, among several other reviews into the culture at Parliament House.

Meanwhile, Morrison’s chief of staff, John Kunkel, has been conducting an inquiry into whether any of Morrison’s employees had negatively backgrounded journalists against Higgins or her partner.

Morrison told question time on Tuesday that Kunkel’s investigation found his staff did not background against Higgins or her loved ones, which Labor senator Penny Wong has rejected.

“[The report] doesn’t exonerate anybody — he didn’t make a finding it didn’t occur,” Wong said.

During the inquiry, Morrison’s staff denied backgrounding journalists. Kunkel concluded that, while he could not ‘make a finding that the alleged activity took place, the fact that those allegations have been made serves as an important reminder of the need for your staff to hold themselves to the highest standards’.


READ MORE: Morrison’s chief of staff investigating alleged backgrounding against Brittany Higgins’ partner


 

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