Brittany Higgins hospitalized and supported “after months of political pressure” | australian politics
Brittany Higgins was hospitalized to preserve her mental well-being after months of scrutiny following her explosive allegation that she was raped by a colleague in Parliament in 2019.
The former Liberal worker, who sparked a #MeToo moment in Australia’s parliament, was admitted to hospital last Thursday evening to address serious concerns about her well-being. Higgins’ partner David Sharaz told Guardian Australia she was recovering “and receiving the support she needed after months of sustained political pressure.”
The hospitalization follows a string of harrowing events, including the tabling in Parliament of a report by Scott Morrison’s chief of staff assessing whether members of the Prime Minister’s media office had a negative track record about Higgins and her partner after the rape allegation became public. There were also fifteen days of Senate hearings on the estimates which gave rise to new revelations.
Higgins remains engaged with the Australian Federal Police and it will be known in a few weeks whether his sexual assault complaint will be prosecuted.
AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw told a Senate committee last week that “an evidentiary package should be provided to the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions in the coming weeks.”
An evidence package is sent to prosecutors if investigators consider that enough evidence has been gathered to support a criminal charge.
At the same hearing, police revealed that 19 other allegations of misconduct involving parliamentarians, their staff or “official establishments” had been brought to their attention since the former Liberal staff member was made public.
Higgins was involved in the investigation led by Morrison’s chief of staff, John Kunkel, into the alleged background to him and Sharaz, and as a preliminary to a separate investigation by Phil Gaetjens, the secretary of the Department of Prime Minister. and Cabinet.
Kunkel ultimately declined to conclude that the prime minister’s office informed Sharaz, citing a lack of first-hand evidence and the seriousness of the allegation.
Morrison’s chief of staff concluded that he was “unable to conclude that the alleged activity had taken place” but warned that “the fact that these allegations were made serves as an important reminder of the need to [the prime minister’s] staff to adhere to the highest standards ”.
Sharaz, a journalist and former civil servant, later called Kunkel’s report an exercise for “PMO staff members protecting themselves.”
The Gaetjens Inquiry is an audit of communications between staff in the Prime Minister’s Office and Higgins prior to February 2021, when the story of the rape allegation came to light by news.com.au.
Morrison called for an investigation because there were different accounts of who knew what when regarding the sexual assault allegation. Morrison insisted that he and his office were unaware of the rape allegation until February 2021, even though a number of senior government officials were aware of Higgins’ account of events.
It’s unclear when Gaetjens will complete his investigation, although Morrison’s department head has signaled that it will be in a few weeks, not months.
It is also unclear whether the report Gaetjens is preparing for Morrison will ever be made public. In an appearance before a Senate committee, Gaetjens abstained on the grounds that it was Morrison’s report, not his.
Higgins met Morrison in late April. Morrison reported at the end of March that he would meet with her privately after she filed a formal complaint with Kunkel about the alleged background, but the meeting did not take place until a month later.
During the meeting, Higgins urged the Prime Minister to “show leadership” to bring about a cultural change in the Australian parliament and protect political staff from predatory behavior in the workplace.
Higgins alleges that she was raped by a colleague in March 2019 in the Parliament office of her then employer Linda Reynolds, who held the defense industry portfolio at the time.
Higgins telling his story publicly has already sparked significant reactions. Australian Gender Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins has been asked by the government to investigate parliamentary culture at work, and Morrison has signaled the establishment of an independent complaints process for serious incidents in the Parliament.
The Liberal staff member who allegedly raped Higgins in 2019 only saw his job terminated 10 days after leaving Reynolds office. The official termination date appeared in responses to questions on notice provided by the finance ministry after the Senate’s last round of estimates at the end of March.