Details of sexual inquiry revealed
The investigation into workplace culture in Parliament House and the process of handling allegations of sexual harassment and assault will be led by sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins.
Special Minister of State Simon Birmingham said the allegation that Brittany Higgins had been raped in a minister's office and the historical claim that Attorney-General Christian Porter had raped a woman were "deeply distressing and confronting". Mr Porter has strongly denied the claim.
Mr Birmingham told reporters on Friday the inquiry would examine how to change the culture and practices within parliament to ensure future assaults were prevented, after accusations the Morrison government failed to respond to Ms Higgins' claims properly.
"The parliament of Australia should reflect best practice in the prevention of, and response to, any instances of bullying, sexual harassment, or sexual assault," he said.
"The Prime Minister asked me to work across party lines to develop a review that would be truly at arm's length of government, and that would be truly independent."
Senator Birmingham said the consultation to establish the inquiry involved bipartisan advice and support as well as expertise from figures working in the field of sexual harassment and assault support.
He said it would also seek advice from those who say they were assaulted or experienced harassment while working in parliament.
"This review will be able to hear examples and, indeed, take submissions, from any former members of parliament staff or those who have worked within the parliament," the senator said.
"It is not, though, an investigative review. I think that is important to make clear."
The inquiry was about achieving systemic change, Senator Birmingham said.
"The review will also have clear protocols and practices put in place such that, if people are sharing experiences or stories of harassment or assault, and where they want to have those issues resolved through appropriate legal channels or other appropriate agencies, the support will be put in place to assist them to do so," he said.
An update into the inquiry will be provided in July and a final report is due in November.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese welcomed the appointment of Ms Jenkins to lead the review, who he said would have a "big job ahead of her".
"It needs to have proper services so that people know where to get assistance," he said shortly after the details of the inquiry were revealed.
"It needs to be a transparent processes in terms of complaints, including at arm's length from those in positions of existing power so people can have confidence to go forward either on a confidential basis, if they wish, or on the basis of it not being confidential if that's appropriate and if the people agree."
The appointment of Ms Jenkins comes after Defence Minister Linda Reynolds apologised to former staffer Brittany Higgins, whom she referred to as a "lying cow".
Ms Higgins claimed she was raped in the Defence Minister's parliamentary office in 2019, and has criticised support given to her in the wake of the alleged crime.
It was revealed on Thursday Ms Reynolds called the alleged victim a "lying cow" in an outburst in front of staff, a revelation that prompted Ms Higgins to threaten legal action.
The Defence Minister offered a public apology to Ms Higgins in a statement released on Friday.
"In response to a letter from Ms Higgins' lawyers yesterday afternoon, discussions are now under way through our legal representatives in an effort to resolve this matter as soon as possible, with any resolution to include an apology," she said.
"However, in the meantime, I want to express how deeply sorry I am for these remarks and for any hurt and distress they have caused."
Ms Reynolds insisted she had never questioned Ms Higgins' account of the night in question, and said the remark was directed at the alleged victim's subsequent criticism of the support offered to her.*For 24-hour sexual violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.
Originally published as Details of sexual inquiry revealed