‘Name & Shame’ Lists & 24/7 Support: What Parliament House Will Look Like In A Post-Brittany Higgins World
All 10 recommendations made by the Foster Review will be implemented by the government, a historic set of reforms set to change how Parliament House responds to sexual assault. But what exactly is changing, and will it be enough?
The “watershed” review, ordered by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the wake of the Brittany Higgins’ allegation, found in June that parliament house was unequipped to deal with serious allegations of bullying or assault, “particularly sexual assault”.
It was a shocking indictment of a toxic workplace culture where staffers were fearful of speaking up on serious issues in case they were labelled a “troublemaker”.
Prime Minister and Cabinet deputy secretary Stephanie Foster, who conducted the review, said a key challenge was the perception that serious incidents would be “swept under the rug”, and a lack of consequences for “parliamentarians who tolerate, or contribute to, serious incidents in the workplace”.
She made 10 key recommendations to meet these shortcomings — and all 10 have now been accepted.
A big one is the somewhat controversial one-hour sexual harassment training, which will be optional for MPs.
However, the review suggested creating a public register of who attended the training, essentially allowing for MPs who skipped it to be named and shamed. The expectation is that all ministers will attend or otherwise forfeit their portfolios.
"But for the rest of the Parliament, it will be for the Parliament to consider exactly how that name-and-shame function may work, and for those who may refuse to do so,” Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said.
Beyond a sexual harassment seminar, crucial frameworks and support systems will be established to help anyone involved in future incidents.
“It should be timely, independent, confidential, and trauma-informed, available to all parliamentary staff and parliamentarians who experience, witness, are accused of or are supporting someone in relation to a serious incident related to the parliamentary workplace,” the review said.
Part of this step will be establishing a ‘Serious Incident Team’, comprising a group of “highly skilled case officers” to receive reports of serious incidents or patterns of behaviour, provide immediate and on-going trauma-informed support, facilitate the resolution of minor issues, and escalate the more serious ones to the appropriate authorities.
Another huge recommendation is establishing a ‘Serious Incident Team’ to resolve issues in a trauma-informed way. Essentially, the review found the Department of Finance (which manages workplace health and safety complaints) was not equipped to handle the serious stuff, which is where the Serious Incident Team would step in.
“The support system should be timely, independent, confidential, and trauma-informed, available to all parliamentary staff and parliamentarians who experience, witness, are accused of or are supporting someone in relation to a serious incident related to the parliamentary workplace,” the review said.
“I am so pleased to hear that all 10 recommendations of the Foster Review will be implemented,” Brittany Higgins said on Twitter.
“These reforms, most notably the independent complaints mechanism, will ensure Parliament House is a safer workplace for all future employees.”
The one big question the review didn’t answer was what to do if complaints are made against politicians by people outside the Parliament House workplace, such as the allegations against Christian Porter (which he denies).
That question will hopefully be answered when Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins hands down her report in November this year.
If you or anyone you know has experienced sexual or domestic violence and is in need of support, please call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), the National Sexual Assault Domestic Family Violence Service.