/ 26 May 2021

Police probe new reports as Higgins investigation winds down

Federal Police have received 40 reports about 19 incidents of misconduct involving MPs and staff since February. Not all of the alleged incidents are sexual in nature, but Commissioner Reece Kershaw yesterday said some relate to alleged sexual assaults. Before a Senate committee yesterday, the top cop says “sensitive investigations” involving an elected member, journalist, or someone of “significant interest” to the public are underway. On former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins’ allegations that she was raped by a colleague in a ministerial office at Parliament House, Kershaw said a “brief of evidence” is likely to be handed to prosecutors in the “coming weeks”. These were just 2 parts of a big day on this front…

So, an investigation into whether anyone in PM Scott Morrison’s office backgrounded against Higgins’ partner (aka briefing reporters without attribution) has been completed. The report said the PM’s chief of staff John Kunkel did not find that “negative briefing” had taken place. And a separate report investigating who inside the Morrison Government knew what and when about Higgins’ alleged assault (aka the Gaetjens review) will be completed within weeks, although it’s still unclear whether it will be made public. That prompted some strong words from Labor Senator Katy Gallagher who said both reports were “not independent”.  As for the review into handling staffers’ complaints, an independent system and face-to-face training have been recommended by the PM’s departmental Deputy Secretary Stephanie Foster. When it’s ticked off by the government, there will be consultation with staffers and others.

Yup. The NSW Government yesterday announced changes to the state’s consent laws. When approved by parliament, it will mean doing or saying something to confirm consent before sex. And a person accused of sexual assault will no longer be able to rely on a defence that they believe they were given consent by their partner – they will have to prove they took reasonable steps to obtain it. The changes will also invalidate consent if one party lies or tricks the other into having sex. The hope is that it will give survivors of sexual assault a greater chance of receiving justice in the courts. The proposed changes have been hailed by advocates, including 29yo Saxon Mullins whose story kicked off the process.

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