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It has taken too long to confront Canberra’s toxic culture

Brittany Higgins, the former Liberal staffer who alleges she was raped on a couch in Defence Minister Linda Reynolds’ parliamentary office, has every right to be angry. While the truth of the alleged incident is for the courts to decide, there is no doubt that from the moment she returned to work, she was treated appallingly.

Ms Higgins’ story is damning, but not unfamiliar. A young woman in a junior staffing role was made to feel like it was a “political problem”. Ms Higgins explained: “It wasn’t a staffing problem, it wasn’t an HR problem, it wasn’t a human problem, it immediately was, ’OK, we have an issue.”

Brittany Higgins alleges she was raped by a colleague in Defence Minister Linda Reynolds’ office at Parliament House in March 2019.

Brittany Higgins alleges she was raped by a colleague in Defence Minister Linda Reynolds’ office at Parliament House in March 2019.Credit:Channel Ten/Alex Ellinghausen

As time went by, it became evident to Ms Higgins that she would have to choose between her career as a political staffer and pursuing her rape claim. No one supported her in thinking she could do both. Her words offer a unique insight into the Canberra bubble: “There is a strange culture of silence in the parties. The idea of speaking out on these sort of issues, especially around a [election] campaign, it’s like letting the team down. You are not a team player.”

In the pressure-cooker world of Canberra politics, Ms Higgins was unequivocal – it’s always about putting the reputation of the party ahead of the individual. It’s a scenario we have heard all too often before, with at times deplorable consequences.

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