Former Political Staffer Brittany Higgins Seeks Reform From Leaders

April 30, 2021 Updated: April 30, 2021

Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins says her conversation with Scott Morrison was “difficult,” but there was a consensus on reforming the toxic workplace culture faced by political advisers.

Higgins met with the prime minister and Labor leader Anthony Albanese in Sydney on April 30. 

A decision by Higgins to go public about her alleged rape in a ministerial office at Parliament House sparked national rallies about the mistreatment of women and an independent review into parliamentary workplaces.

She told reporters after the meeting with Morrison he had acknowledged the system let her down.

“It was a difficult conversation, it was robust, but ultimately, in the end, I think there was a consensus that reform needs to happen,” she said.

The talks centred on reform of the Members of Parliament Staff (MOPS) Act, which Higgins says does not offer adequate workplace protections and conditions for staffers.

She said there was also a “robust discussion” about the need for an independent authority to deal with human resource issues in parliamentary workplaces.

“I am hopeful that it will (change) and he is going to do the right thing by the women here.”

Higgins was also hopeful the Liberal Party would overhaul its approach to women.

“Progress moves slowly. I am hopeful that it’s going to happen. I guess time will tell.”

Asked whether there was one single thing she got out of the meeting with Morrison, she said: “I think he fundamentally seemed to understand what had happened to me, and how it happened in a more holistic way. And that was encouraging, I think, by the end of the conversation.”

Morrison said in a statement Higgins’ views and experience would be invaluable in reforming the parliamentary workplace.

“I am committed to achieving an independent process to deal with these difficult issues,” he said.

“In addition, the meeting was an opportunity to thank her personally for her contribution to my government.”

Earlier, she said the meeting with Anthony Albanese had been constructive.

The federal opposition leader told reporters 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,” Albanese said.

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

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.

By Paul Osborne