Ironically, it was only a matter of days after we published our last newsletter on co-worker relationships that parliament house staffer Brittany Higgins went on The Project to tell journalist Lisa Wilkinson that she was allegedly raped by an older colleague.
WR Law’s Rosa Raco’s advice on the matter of co-worker relationships was that power imbalances in the workplace can often lead to coercive behaviour and sexual assault, and of course a huge backlash for the employer.
Apart from the devastation which has been inflicted upon Brittany Higgins, the political impact of the alleged rape for the Coalition has been huge. And the furore could not have come at a better time for Labor which has been desperately trying to find some purchase before the next federal election.
As Labor relentlessly pursues the matter in both houses of parliament, it seems that government ministers and staff are succumbing to a collective case of the vapours – Morrison offered them counselling and Senator Linda Reynolds was hospitalised last week as a ‘precautionary measure.’
As of last Friday, there are now four inquiries into different aspects of the workplace culture inside Parliament House. And regarding the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins there’s more versions of who knew what, when, than holes in Swiss cheese.
All of this is to say that it is easy to lose track of the plight of Brittany Higgins in this sorry mess. If ministers and staff are being hospitalised and counselled over the fallout, imagine for a moment the impact on Ms Higgins.
Brittany Higgins not only came forward with her deeply personal, horror story but she did so publicly on national television. The stress of her ordeal will be accentuated now that she has reported the allegations to Australian Federal Police. She is currently jobless and will forever remain associated in the public eye with the events that occurred inside the office of Senator Reynolds in March 2019.
Furthermore, if the matter goes to court Ms Higgins will almost inevitably be re-traumatised. Journalist Louise Milligan’s recent book, Witness, is devoted to the sickening probability that complainants like Ms Higgins will fall prey to a ‘paternalistic, disappointing and bruising system.’
I’d like to leave the last word to Ms Higgins herself. In a statement expressing sympathy for Senator Reynolds, Ms Higgins went on to say, “Let’s just hope that from this whole horrible situation there will actually be some fundamental reform to the MOP(S) Act for vulnerable staff and improvements to the workplace culture in Parliament House,” she tweeted.
I presume Ms Higgins is referring to the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act (1984) which obviously lacks the rigour to protect the safety and dignity of young women such as Ms Higgins.
As for the other matter of workplace culture in parliament house, I hope the crew who were at the Canberra bar the night a 24-year-old female rookie was being plied with drink and whisked away by a senior staffer, are feeling at the very least, sick in the stomach.
This article has been prepared for information purposes only and is not legal advice. For legal advice regarding your specific circumstances, please contact WR Law directly on (03) 5499 6131 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org