Parliament House has made ‘no formal policy changes’ since Brittany Higgins’ alleged rape

Two years after an alleged rape at Parliament House, no changes to policy have been made to help staff respond to serious incidents.

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison told parliament during Question Time that a report will be with him “very very shortly” and an independent complaints process – which he would discuss with Labor to gain bipartisan support – will be in place this year.

Secretary of the Department of Parliamentary Services Rob Stefanic told a Senate estimates hearing earlier on Monday there had been discussions but “no formal changes in policy”.

The department is responsible for building access and cleaning, including in the ministerial office where the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins occurred in March 2019.

Asked if he was satisfied the department did all it could to provide a safe place for the former Liberal staffer, Stefanic said there was always an opportunity to learn and make improvements.

Higgins said the fact no changes had been made to security inside Parliament House “defies belief”.

“Mistakes are inevitable. For the Department to choose not to act in any way – over the past two years – to improve protocols is downright negligent,” she tweeted.

“Honestly, regular licensed venues have more strenuous entry conditions and duty of care to their patrons than Parliament House has to their own staff.”

The parliament has come under scrutiny as a toxic workplace for years.

The Morrison government has taken steps to beef up funding for safety for women and girls across Australia – at home and at work – and set up a task force for change.

It also opened up new counselling services for parliamentary staff.

But Australian of the Year Grace Tame questions whether Morrison’s new assistant minister for women Amanda Stoker can make a difference in broader change.

Tame was speaking to The Betoota Advocate podcast about paedophilia, grooming and psychological abuse which she described as “vile, that messes with your whole life”.

“And if you don’t absolutely oppose it, you therefore condone it,” she said.

“And so I just, I don’t think that she’s the adequate person for the job.”

Morrison was also questioned in parliament about why he said to Tame, “Gee, I bet it felt good to get that out”, after her award acceptance speech.

“That is exactly what I meant,” he said.

“It was a very proud moment for her and her great struggle and challenge over a long period of time and what she did on that occasion was speak with a very strong voice about what had occurred to her.”

Senator Reynolds’ treatment of Higgins remains under scrutiny, along with what senior ministers knew at the time.

Officials were unable to answer questions on Monday about who made the decision to “deep clean” Senator Reynolds’ office on the weekend of the alleged sexual attack, citing ongoing investigations.

A broader inquiry is looking at the work culture at parliament and in electorate offices around the country.

Senate President Scott Ryan told the hearing no one should be fearful of participating in the inquiry.