Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the alleged rape of staffer Brittany Higgins inside Parliament House should serve as a "wake-up" call to ensure working environments are safe for all women as he apologised to her.
Mr Morrison became visibly emotional on Tuesday as he denounced the incident and spoke about being a father of daughters, and how he would feel if they were in the position of Ms Higgins.
"[My wife] Jenny and I spoke last night and she said to me: 'You have to think about this as a father first. What would you want to happen if it were our girls?' Jenny has a way of clarifying things," he said.
"It shatters me that still, in this day and age, that a young woman can find herself in the vulnerable situation that she was in, not her doing.
"And we have to do more, whether it's in this workplace or any other workplace in the country, to ensure that people can work safely in their place, and be at their best and do what they went into that job to do."
Ms Higgins was 24 years old when she was allegedly raped by a colleague in March 2019.
Her boss, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, summoned her to a formal employment meeting about the incident in the same room the alleged rape occurred.
Senator Reynolds says she did not know the alleged incident happened inside her ministerial office at the time of the meeting.
Alleged rape victim felt she'd become a 'political problem'
Ms Higgins said working in parliament was her dream job and Mr Morrison said it was a privilege for anybody who was employed there.
She decided not to pursue a police complaint at the time because she felt pressure that doing so would affect her employment.
The young staffer said during the meeting with Senator Reynolds she was "nice" and "apologetic", but the meeting quickly turned to whether she would report the incident to police.
"I felt like a weird sort of a HR, ticking a box moment," she said.
"It felt like I immediately became sort of like a political problem... it wasn't a staffing problem, it wasn't a HR problem, wasn't a human problem."
Mr Morrison said he believed those who offered Ms Higgins support had the best intentions, but at the end of the day it was not okay she did not feel that way.
The prime minister said there were a number of things that could be done to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future, but the government must continue to address the environment of Parliament House.
"Now, I believe over the last few years since this occurred, there have been changes and there have been improvements. But I'm not naive enough – and I don't think any of you are, or frankly anyone else in this place is naive enough – to think that this is not a position of vulnerability that can still occur," he said.
"Whether it's here or, frankly, in so many other workplaces around this country. So, I hope Brittany's call is a wake-up for all of us from that point of view."
PM says he had only just become aware of allegations
The prime minister said he was only made aware of the allegations on Monday morning despite the alleged engagement of staff from his office in the investigation.
He denied there was a "don't ask, don't tell" policy in his office.
"I can assure you there is no such culture and I'm not happy about the fact it was not brought to my attention," Mr Morrison said.
Senator Reynolds told parliament on Monday she never forced Ms Higgins to choose between her job and making a police complaint.
Mr Morrison added he wanted to make sure Parliament House was a safe work environment for any woman.
Scott Morrison offers apology to Brittany Higgins
Mr Morrison said he would happily apologise to Ms Higgins for the meeting that was held in the same place the alleged rape happened.
"I do apologise, that shouldn't have happened," he said.
He has asked Curtin MP Celia Hammond, a former university vice chancellor, to work with party whips and MPs to improve workplace standards and protect staff.
"We all have a role to play in that. I do, members of this place do," he told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.
Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet deputy secretary Stephanie Foster will also review workplace processes in regard to the allegations.
An automatic reporting obligation to department officials will be established.
If you or somebody you know is experiencing sexual abuse or family violence contact 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732, the Sexual Assault Support Services on 6231 1811 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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