Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he was left “sickened” by news of a second allegation of rape at Parliament House, as his office continues to investigate.
Mr Morrison said he was “very upset” at reports a second woman was sexually assaulted by the same man who allegedly abused former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins at Parliament House.
“We’ve got a problem in the parliament … so these events truly do sicken me. They do sicken me, as they should anyone,” he said.
Mr Morrison said he perceived broader problems with the “workplace culture” in Parliament House, which needed to improve.
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.
Mr Morrison on Saturday said reports a second woman was allegedly assaulted by the same man – a former government advisor – in late 2020, were “distressing”.
The woman argued that if the government had adequately dealt with the incident involving Ms Higgins in 2019, she would not have become a victim.
But Mr Morrison insisted all ministers and political staffers who had knowledge of Mr Higgins’ alleged rape sought to refer the matter to police.
He also welcomed the referral of Ms Higgins’ complaint to police.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has criticised the government for treating Ms Higgins’ assault as a “political problem” rather than a criminal offence.
Mr Morrison claims his office did not find out about the incident at Parliament House until last week and he was not informed until Monday.
But a text message exchange between Ms Higgins and a fellow Liberal staffer within a fortnight of the incident called into question the account.
Ms Higgins said at least three of Mr Morrison’s staff had prior knowledge of the incident.
The prime minister said he would not be drawn on whether any action would be taken against senior staff and ministers.
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.
Mr Albanese on Saturday criticised the appointment of Mr Gaetjens, saying the review would not be independent.
“You need that arm’s length capacity to deal with these issues, independent of government or any political party, to deal with it transparently and it needs to have the authority to deal with it,” Mr Albanese told reporters.