Independent body needed to deal with allegations by Canberra parliamentary staff, review finds

Parliamentary staff in Canberra need a new independent complaints mechanism to deal with incidents of alleged sexual assault and harassment along with serious bullying, a review has found.

The Foster report, released on Friday, found a so-called serious incident team should be developed to deal with sexual assault such as that alleged by Brittany Higgins who claims she was raped in a minister’s office by a colleague in 2019.

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet on Friday published deputy secretary Stephanie Foster’s 리뷰, which found the existing system failed to set clear standards for parliamentarians and staff, was not accountable and lacked an independent complaints mechanism.

“A consistent theme in consultations was the importance of independence – from the employer, political parties and the executive government,” the review stated. “As the fear of being seen as a ‘troublemaker’ can be a barrier to reporting – particularly in the parliamentary context – independence is particularly important.”

The review’s release comes as ACT police told Guardian Australia it had launched an investigation into an alleged revenge porn incident related to the sharing of intimate images taken at Parliament House.

One week after a Liberal staffer was sacked in March for performing a solo sex act on the desk of a female MP, a report was made to ACT police accusing the whistleblower who had reported the alleged workplace misconduct to Network Ten of breaching revenge porn laws.

금요일에, ACT police said after receiving a report on 30 March “an investigation is underway in relation to this matter”.

Foster, 그 동안에, recommended that “in its initial phase” an independent mechanism should cover complaints related to the current term of parliament and where the parties remained in parliament or their employment was still covered by the Member of Parliamentary Staff Act.

Such a restriction would prevent the body from investigating incidents such as the alleged rape of Higgins by a fellow Liberal staffer in Linda Reynolds’ office, the solo sex act incident, and former staffer Rachelle Miller’s complaint she was frozen out after a consensual affair with Alan Tudge.

금요일에, Guardian Australia revealed that Higgins had been hospitalised to safeguard her mental wellbeing after months of unrelenting scrutiny following her explosive allegation.

Labor pressed Reynolds in Senate estimates on Friday over her handling of the alleged incident, including the fact the staffer who Higgins accused was not terminated until 10 days after he left the office.

Reynolds declined to answer on the basis it could prejudice the police investigation into Higgins’ complaint. When Labor’s Katy Gallagher and Penny Wong persisted Reynolds objected to their view she was being unresponsive.

“I did answer your questions to the point you ground me to the ground and I ended up in hospital,” Reynolds said, in reference to her recent period of sick leave. The estimates session was suspended shortly after the acrimonious exchange and reconvened with a different line of questioning.

In her review, Foster described parliament as a “pressured, complex, inherently insecure and intensely political environment” with a culture of intense scrutiny, “power dynamics”, “concerns about employment security creating unwillingness to complain, and reluctance to challenge unacceptable behaviour of ‘high value’ staff and parliamentarians”.

Foster said the review, triggered by “deeply distressing reports of an alleged sexual assault in a ministerial office in March 2019”, was a “watershed moment” for parliament to change its culture.

The primary recommendation is for a complaints mechanism to be set up as a function of the Parliamentary Service Commissioner, overseen by the presiding officers of the House of Representatives and the Senate, ensuring independence from the executive and employing parliamentarians.

This mechanism should ensure “proportionate consequences for complaints that are upheld”, Foster said.

하나, where the alleged perpetrator of inappropriate workplace conduct is a parliamentarian it will still be a matter for parliament to determine a penalty.

Within the mechanism, Foster proposed a serious incident team, able to appoint independent experts to conduct a review of alleged incidents and provide referrals to police or specialised support services.

The review recommended that out-of-hours access to parliament should be logged and reported to deter non-work-related access, and new protocols for parliamentary security to report suspected incidents.

While the Foster review has already led to the introduction of a 1-800 support line and education of parliamentarians and staff, the rest of its recommendations will now be put to consultation before a final report.

The finance minister, Simon Birmingham, said the “critical recommendation” of an independent complaints mechanism would require a “complex” body of work but “consultation across the parliament will commence immediately”.

The Morrison government has also commissioned a review by sex discrimination commissioner, Kate Jenkins, whose report is due later in the year.

The AFP commissioner, Reece Kershaw, told a Senate committee last week that “a brief of evidence is likely to be provided to the ACT director of public prosecutions in coming weeks” in relation to Higgins’ allegation.

A brief of evidence is sent to prosecutors if investigators consider enough evidence has been gathered to substantiate a criminal charge.

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