Decision to adopt independent complaints process will create safer parliament, Brittany Higgins says

Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins has welcomed the Morrison government’s decision to adopt an independent complaints mechanism for serious incidents in Parliament House, which is the central recommendation of the Foster review.

Higgins, who says she was raped by a more senior colleague in the office of the then defence industry minister Linda Reynolds, said on Monday an independent complaints mechanism would “ensure Parliament House is a safer workplace for all future employees”.

The Morrison government has accepted all 10 findings of the Foster review, which was initiated after Higgins went public with her story. The prime minister asked a deputy secretary in his department, Stephanie Foster, to undertake a review of the parliamentary workplace. There is also a separate review being undertaken by Australia’s sex discrimination commissioner, Kate Jenkins.

Foster’s review found the existing system of human resource management in the parliament failed to set clear standards for MPs and staff, was not accountable and lacked an independent complaints mechanism. It recommended that a serious incident team be developed to deal with sexual assault.

On Monday, Morrison said in a statement the new independent complaints mechanism would be overseen by the parliamentary service commissioner and would apply to incidents from the commencement of the current term of parliament.

Morrison said Foster’s final report incorporated feedback from consultations with the opposition, minor parties, independents and staff, “including proposing options for parliament to mandate training for parliamentarians”.

Labor had argued the independent complaints mechanism model originally proposed by Foster needed a broader remit so it could retrospectively investigate serious incidents.

Foster argued that “in its initial phase” the independent mechanism should only 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.

This restriction would have prevented the new body from investigating incidents such as the Higgins complaint, the solo sex act incident, and former Liberal staffer Rachelle Miller’s complaint she was frozen out after a consensual affair with Alan Tudge.

The final report released on Monday says “arrangements to deal with historical complaints” will be considered by the separate Jenkins review.

The Foster review notes that staff should be able to access the mechanism after they leave employment in a political office “and the mechanism will be able to review reports made by former staff where the person that is the subject of the report remains in parliament or in parliamentary employment”.

The government says the new independent mechanism will be established within the next six weeks.

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The Jenkins review is continuing to interview former parliamentary staff and other interested parties, and will report by the end of this year.

Last week, the Australian Human Rights Commission confirmed that 345 people have either made submissions or have been interviewed by the Jenkins review, with 72% of respondents identifying as female and 28% identifying as male.

People making submissions include current and former parliamentarians, current and former members of staff and volunteers and interns.

The Foster review says that in addition to the independent complaints mechanism, the Department of Finance should remain responsible for routine human resources matters for parliamentary staff “pending consideration by the Jenkins review”.

It says the department should manage workplace reports “that are not serious incidents, including less serious reports of bullying and harassment” – as well as handling “existing complaints on foot at the time the complaints mechanism is implemented”.

The review says ahead of the Jenkins review, finance will also continue to deal with “historical reports that do not fall within the scope of the independent complaints mechanism”.

In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit In an emergency, call 000. International helplines can be found via

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