Prime Minister Scott Morrison says allegations from young Liberal staffer that she was raped by a colleague at Parliament House are “deeply distressing”.
Ms Higgins was 24 when she was allegedly sexually assaulted by the colleague in the early hours of March 23, 2019.
Later, she would be invited to a meeting about the incident and asked to sit inside the very same ministerial office where she says she was assaulted.
A spokesperson for the government has confirmed that by March 26, 2019, senior staff in Senator Reynolds’ office were aware of an incident.
“It was initially treated as a breach of the Statement of Standards for Ministerial Staff,” a statement said.
“After further consultation with Ms Higgins over the following days, it became clear to senior staff that there were previously unknown elements of the incident that may be of a more serious nature.”
The spokesperson said during the investigation into the incident, “Minister Reynolds and a senior staff member met with Ms Higgins in the Minister’s office”.
“Given the seriousness of the incident, consideration should have been made to the location of the meeting with Ms Higgins, and in hindsight that oversight is regretted,” the spokesperson said.
Senator Reynolds told the Senate this afternoon she is “extremely concerned about the wellbeing of my former staff member”.
“Women should be safe, and they should feel safe in the workplace at all times,” she said.
Mr Morrison also addressed the allegations during Question Time today.
“My government takes all such matters – all matters of workplace safety – very, very seriously,” Mr Morrison said.
“Everyone should feel safe in their workplace, wherever that is.
“Reports today are deeply distressing.”
Mr Morrison and the government maintain Ms Higgins was supported throughout the entire process.
“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,” the prime minister said.
“This offer of support and assistance continues.”
Ms Higgins told news.com.au she felt as though she had to choose between reporting the incident or keeping her job.
On the night in question, a group of Liberal Party colleagues attended a work function together and Ms Higgins said she remembers the man allegedly responsible buying rounds of drinks.
At the time, she said, he was considered a “rising star” within the party.
Eventually it was suggested she and the man share a ride home as they lived in a similar direction, however they ended up inside Parliament House.
The government has confirmed this and initially the incident was treated as a security breach in line with standards for ministerial staff given the pair were in Parliament House after hours.
Ms Higgins said she was signed in by a security officer and later in Senator Reynolds’ office she felt sick, so she lay down on the couch. She said she woke up during the alleged sexual assault.
Ms Higgins said a parliamentary security guard found her, still in her cocktail dress, later that morning.
The man involved resigned a few days later, but this was in response to the security breach and not the alleged sexual assault.
Ms Higgins went on to work for Senator Michaelia Cash for two years, before resigning in January, saying she would be leaving Canberra.
ACT Policing today confirmed it received a report in April 2019 “in relation to an alleged assault at Parliament House”.
“ACT Policing investigators subsequently spoke to the complainant who chose not to proceed with making a formal complaint,” a police spokeswoman said.
“ACT Policing’s investigation remains open but did not progress at that time as a result.
“As part of initial enquiries, ACT Policing also liaised with Department of Parliamentary Services.”
If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondblue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.