The shocking allegations of a sexual assault of a Liberal staffer in a minister’s office is likely to haunt the Morrison government as politicians return to Parliament House for another sitting week.
Brittany Higgins’ allegation of rape in 2019 surfaced a week ago, and a second staffer has now alleged she was also attacked by the same person a year later.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison can expect to be quizzed further by the opposition and journalists on what he and his staff knew about the alleged attack.
Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles agreed with the prime minister that the culture of parliament needs to change but unlike Mr Morrison, he wants an independent inquiry.
“It can’t be partisan,” Mr Marles told reporters on Sunday.
“This applies to all of us – the failings in respect of the culture in Parliament House is an indictment on all of us.”
Mr Morrison’s former chief of staff, the current Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Phil Gaetjens, has been tasked with leading a review into departmental communications regarding the incident.
Former deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek also believes there is more to the events that followed the alleged attack on Ms Higgins than are being told.
Mr Morrison is sticking to his version of events, that he knew nothing about the alleged sexual assault until last Monday and 48 hours after his own staff were quizzed on the matter by a journalist.
Asked on Sky News’ Sunday Agenda program whether she thought the prime minister was lying, Ms Plibersek said: “I don’t think we have the full truth of this story, that’s for sure.”
“They have really let her down.”
Ms Higgins is proceeding with a formal complaint to federal police over the alleged rape in early 2019 inside the office of now-Defence Minister Linda Reynolds.
Despite questions about Senator Reynolds’ handling of the complaint, the prime minister said she has his confidence to remain in Cabinet.
Two other women now allege to have been assaulted by the man.
One – a former government adviser – was allegedly attacked in late 2020, and says that if the government had adequately dealt with the incident involving Ms Higgins she would not have become a victim.
The third woman told The Australian on Monday she was assaulted while working as a Coalition volunteer during the 2016 election campaign.
She says she was barely out of school at the time of the attack, which occurred after a night of drinking with the then political staffer.