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Alleged Parliament House rape victim 'should be listened to'

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has publicly responded to sexual assault allegations raised by a Liberal staffer, saying the woman should be listened to and respected.

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Brittany Higgins was 24 years old when she was allegedly raped by a colleague inside Parliament House 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.

Reynolds says she did not know the alleged incident happened inside her ministerial office at the time of the meeting.

“I’m extremely concerned about the wellbeing of my former staff member,” she told parliament on Monday.

“Women should be safe and they should feel safe in the workplace at all times.

“At the time of my initial meeting with the staff member I was not aware of the details or the circumstance of the alleged incident in my office. Had I known, I would have conducted the meeting elsewhere.”

Questions have now been raised about whether Reynolds should apologise for her handling of the allegations.

Labor frontbencher Kristina Keneally is demanding answers from the defence minister.

“There are security issues around the defence minister’s office, there are issues as to whether or not this has been properly referred and investigated, not just by officials in this building, but also by the police,” she said.

“There are questions about whether or not this young woman was pressured to choose between her job and reporting the matter to police.”

Asked during Question Time about his government’s response to the alleged rape, Morrison said: “My government takes all such matters and all matters of workplace safety very, very seriously”.

“Everyone should feel safe in their workplace, wherever that is. Reports today are deeply distressing. This matter is under consideration by police.”

Morrison said at all times, guidance was sought from Brittany Higgins about how she wished to proceed with the allegations.

“This important best practice principle of empowering Ms Higgins is something the government always sought to follow in relation to this matter,” he said.

“The government has aimed to provide Ms Higgins with her agency, to provide support to make decisions in her interests and to respect her privacy.

“This offer of support and assistance continues. It is important that Ms Higgins’ views are listened to and respected.”

Liberal MP Jason Falinksi praised Higgins for speaking out.

“Assault of any sort, but sexual assault in particular, is just unbelievable. Ms Higgins is incredibly brave for speaking out and we should all respect that,” he said.

Higgins is the third Liberal staffer to allege she was sexually assaulted by men in the party.

Labor MP Peta Murphy told parliament there needed to be an independent review of the treatment of female employees in Parliament House, and an independent office established to provide advice and counselling.

NSW Liberal premier Gladys Berejiklian said the issue of sexual assault was not limited to any one party, and all women should feel comfortable reporting such allegations.

“I don’t think women ever feel comfortable doing that at all times, it’s a very difficult decision and I don’t think it’s specific to one political party or another or one part of society or another,” she told reporters in Sydney.

“They’re broader issues that need further work.”

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