Brittany Higgins broke down in tears during an intense meeting with Scott Morrison as she described the intense isolation she felt in the months after her alleged rape.
The former Liberal staffer met Mr Morrison to discuss her plans to make workplaces safer for employees at the Commonwealth Parliamentary offices in Sydney on Friday afternoon.
The mammoth hour-and-a-half meeting was ’emotional’ for the 26-year-old who admitted she found it difficult to return to her former workplace.
While speaking to the prime minister about the ‘failings in the system’, she revealed she briefly lost her composure.
‘It was explaining how insular the system is when you’ve gone through a trauma and trying to report it and how vulnerable you are and how few protections you have,’ Ms Higgins told news.com.au.
Brittany Higgins has met with Scott Morrison on Friday afternoon in their first conversation since she made her allegations (pictured after the meeting)
‘Explaining that, as someone who was really at the bottom of the food chain.’
After their discussion, Ms Higgins told the media the conversation had been ‘difficult’.
‘The Prime Minister acknowledged that the system has let me down and we were in agreement that there needs to be reform,’ Ms Higgins told reporters.
‘It was a difficult conversation to have on a personal level. It was very hard to come here. We discussed that there needs to be better safeguards for staffers where there are power dynamic issues between parliamentarians and individual staffers.’
Former political staffer Brittany Higgins (centre) alongside boyfriend David Sharaz (right)
Ms Higgins had asked Mr Morrison to show leadership to ensure staffers are protected and to overhaul the culture in parliament house, telling him she wanted to ensure ‘no other person would have to go through the trauma that I experienced.’
She also said they had discussed the establishment of a new workplace overseer.
‘We had a robust discussion about the need for an independent authority on human resources,’ Ms Higgins said.
‘It was a difficult conversation but in the end there was a consensus that reform needs to happen.’
Ms Higgins first made her allegations two months ago, sparking a movement calling for more protections for women that culminated in March4Justice rallies across Australia attended by tens of thousands.
Mr Morrison was criticised last month for not meeting Ms Higgins earlier with their hour-long meeting only finalised last week.
Asked if she thought the Prime Minister ‘gets it’ referring to claims being made about the culture in Canberra, Ms Higgins responded that she ‘hoped he would do the right thing by women’.
Among the demands made by Ms Higgins were moves to address a ‘culture of silence that has allowed bullying and harassment to go unchecked’.
Her specific requests including amending a law known as the MOP(S) Act so that MPs can no longer be allowed to fire employees without reason and changes to the process of how staffers are hired.
On Friday evening, the PM issued a statement saying he was pleased to meet Ms Higgins and was committed to the process to bring about changes in workplace culture.
The former Liberal staffer, who claims she was raped by a colleague in Parliament House in 2019, met Mr Morrison at the Commonwealth Parliamentary offices in Sydney on Friday afternoon
Ms Higgins had already met with Labor leader Anthony Albanese and was pictured leaving his offices alongside her boyfriend, former journalist David Sharaz.
After their meeting, Mr Albanese described Ms Higgins as ‘impressive and courageous.’
‘It was a very constructive discussion. Brittany Higgins is a very impressive woman. She has shown extraordinary courage in coming forward to be a voice, to be a voice standing up for women, standing up for issues that need real solutions,’ he told reporters.
‘Brittany Higgins will be putting forward to the prime minister a range of reforms that are necessary… we need to listen to women and to listen to their concerns, to listen to the experience that they’ve gone through, and to listen to their views about solutions.’
Ms Higgins’ ideas to improve workplace safety include updating rules for parliamentary security to encourage them to block drunk staff from entering the building and call an ambulance if anyone is found unconscious.
She claims she was sexually assaulted after security let her and a colleague into the building after a boozy night out.
Her attacker allegedly raped her on a couch in then-defence minister Linda Reynold’s office before she was found half-naked and unconscious by security hours later.
Ms Higgins’ proposal for an independent complaints body would replace the current system where victims make complaints through the Department of Finance.
Brittany Higgins has met with Prime Minister Scott Morrison to discuss her plans to make workplaces safer for employees
Ms Higgins (pictured centre) appeared in high spirits as she earlier left Opposition leader Mr Albanese’s office in the Sydney CBD
Brittany Higgins’ six demands
Change laws around staff employment so they can’t be sacked without reason
Set up an independent complaints body
Set up a parliamentary conduct ombudsman similar to the Independent Parliamentary Expense Authority
Reveal the membership of the Government Staffing Committee
Reveal who sits on the so-called ‘star chamber’, a group of ministers and staffers which vets political staff
Improved Protocols and Procedures for DPS Employees
Source: Ms Higgins’ letter shared with news.com.au
She also wants legal changes to give parliamentary staff, who can be sacked without a reason, greater employment rights.
Ms Higgins revealed her proposals in a letter to the prime minister which she shared with news.com.au.
‘As I made clear in my public statements, I consider this an incredibly important opportunity to fix a broken system and ensure no other staffer has to experience something similar in Parliament House again,’ she wrote in the letter.
‘Too often, a workplace culture can emerge that enables inappropriate conduct which is exacerbated by the disparity in the power dynamics inside offices, among colleagues, inside political structures more broadly, even among lobbyists and the media who share the same workplace.’
Ms Higgins triggered national debate about the treatment of women and the handling of sexual assault complaints.
She has been highly critical of senior ministers’ response to her initial complaint, which has been reinstated with police.
The prime minister has instigated an inquiry into whether his office was briefing journalists against Ms Higgins’ partner in an attempt to discredit and undermine her.
Senator Reynolds, the minister whose parliamentary office was the site of the alleged attack, told 6PR radio she was assisting police with their inquiries.
‘The AFP are investigating her allegations and I am assisting the AFP with their investigation,’ she said.
Ms Reynolds said cultural change and improved behaviour was needed in Parliament House.
‘Across all parties we have got a lot of work to do to really make some significant change in how our parliament operates.
Earlier this month, Ms Higgins signed a $250,000 book deal to publish a memoir detailing her experience.
Police are investigating Ms Higgins’ allegations.
Ms Higgins (pictured with Scott Morrison) alleges she was sexually assaulted after security let her and a colleague into the building after a boozy night out
The Prime Minister’s chief of staff wrote to Ms Higgins to organise the meeting and outline which topics will be discussed