On February 15, former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins, 24, alleged she was raped by a male colleague in the office of then-defence industry minister Linda Reynolds following a staff drinks in 2019.
Following the allegations, first reported by news.com.au, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been called into question following controversial comments the politician made, using his daughters to empathise with Higgins over the alleged incident.
Holding a press conference to address Higgins' allegations, Morrison told media he had "listened to Brittany" and spent the night reflecting on the incident through the perspective of his daughters. The PM shares two daughters, Lily and Abbey, with his wife Jenny.
“Jenny and I spoke last night, and she said to me, ‘You have to think about this as a father first. What would you want to happen if it were our girls?’ Jenny has a way of clarifying things, always has,” Morrison said.
“And so, as I’ve reflected on that overnight, and listened to Brittany, and what she had to say… it shatters me that still, in this day and age, that a young woman can find herself in the vulnerable situation that she was in. Not her doing.”
He continued, "And we have to do more, whether it’s in this workplace or any other workplace in the country, to ensure that people can work safely in their place and be at their best and do what they went into that job to do.”
Morrison's comments were quickly met with criticism online, with many claiming that a man does not have to be a father, or have daughters, to empathise with Higgins' allegations and experience—further emphasising the tired trope that men can only humanise with a female's experience of trauma through the lens of the women most important to him.
"Shouldn’t you have thought about it as a human being?" Ten News reporter Tegan George asked the PM, adding, "What happens when men don’t have wife and children? Do they reach the same compassionate conclusions?"
“In my own experience, being a husband and a father is central to me, my human being,” he said.
“I hadn’t seen her account until last night. I had events and other things I was dealing with until late last night and I had the opportunity at that point to see. I had discussed it with Jenny. She had seen it, and we discussed it. That’s how we deal with these things.
“I think Australians know that I’m pretty honest about these matters and I seek to deal with them as humanly a way as possible and my family helps inform that, as I suspect it does most people.”
On Monday night, Higgins appeared on The Project to speak about the allegations, telling host Lisa Wilkinson she felt betrayed by the government as she tried to process the trauma of the alleged incident, including one where she was made to attend a meeting to discuss the incident in the room where the alleged rape took place.
“So it was the strange thing where it felt like everyone had all this information on my own assault and I didn’t have any and I desperately wanted to see it,” Higgins said.
“I asked at least half a dozen times to see that CCTV and [then chief of staff Fiona Brown] always said no.
"It hurt. It really hurt. It felt like a betrayal for them to withhold this one really small thing they needed for myself to process to move on or just to understand what had happened to me.”
The Prime Minister has since named his department's deputy secretary, Stephanie Foster, to lead a review of the complaints process for staff, while Celia Hammond, a Liberal backbencher, will lead a review of cultural problems around the treatment of women in parliament.
“We cannot ignore the importance of the issue of agency of women in these situations, they need the power in these situations to make the decisions that are best for them,” Morrison said. “And we clearly need to do better about that.”
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