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Higgins pushes leaders for change to toxic culture

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The former Liberal staffer who went public with her alleged rape in a Parliament House office says she had a constructive meeting with Labor leader Anthony Albanese about reforming the toxic workplace culture faced by political advisers.

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Brittany Higgins met Albanese in Sydney on Friday morning and was due to hold talks with Prime Minister Scott Morrison later in the day.

“It was a very constructive meeting and I was very grateful for their time,” she said.

Albanese told reporters after the meeting Higgins’ reform ideas were “modest and reasonable”.

He said just as there was an independent body to deal with parliamentary expenses and a budget office to independently provide policy costings, there was also a need for an independent body for staff members, MPs and chiefs of staff to seek advice and raise workplace issues.

“She has shown extraordinary courage in coming forward – to be a voice standing up for women, standing up for issues that need real solutions,” he said.

“We need to listen to women and to listen to their concerns, to listen to the experience that they’ve gone through.”

Higgins decision to come forward about her alleged rape in a ministerial office at Parliament House sparked national rallies about the mistreatment of women.

Political leaders have pledged to co-operate on reforms.

Higgins says the system failed her and she wants “a new framework for political staff that ensures genuine cultural change and restores the trust of staff”.

Ministerial and parliamentary staff were owed a “significant review” into their working conditions and how they could be improved, she said in a statement earlier this year.

She is concerned political advisers have few protections, resources and confidential reporting mechanisms to address workplace issues, as they are not public servants and work in an extremely high-pressure environment.

Key to any change is reform of the Members of Parliament Staff (MOPS) Act, which Higgins says does not offer adequate workplace protections and conditions for staffers.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins has been tasked with reviewing parliamentary workplaces, including the operation of the MOPS Act.

After taking evidence and submissions, she is expected to provide an interim report in July and final recommendations in November.

Political parties are also overhauling their complaints reporting systems.

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