BRITTANY HIGGINS

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (16:50): I rise in this, the last debate that will occur in this House this week, as we debate the adjournment of the House, as we do at the end of each day—of course, this being the last day of this sitting week. I reflect on the fact that I've taken the opportunity to participate in debates in this place on behalf of my constituency, around issues such as wage stagnation, the rising cost of living and the difficulties getting access to government services that are taking longer and longer over various government departments. I've spoken on aged care and my frustration for local residents in accessing things like home-care packages. But I have to say that this week, as I've participated in debates in this place, my mind has constantly and consistently gone to an interview I saw with a young woman on TV, where she was brave enough to recount the horrifying experience that had happened to her in this place.

I want to take this opportunity, as we finish up this debate, to say to Brittany Higgins that I found the witness she provided publicly, in her interview with Lisa Wilkinson, an extraordinary act of bravery. To hear her describe an act of violence of the most vile type—I was watching, and I could only imagine what it would take for an individual to do that. I saw a bright young woman. I came here as a young staffer, a long time ago. I saw a bright young woman who came here as I had, with the deep thrill and honour you feel when you come to work in this place. It's a profound sense of service to your country. The thrill you feel at being able to be part of that—I could see that in her.

Since I came here as a young staffer, I've seen an increasing number of women working in this place, sitting on the seats in this chamber—sitting on the front bench. I've seen a woman lead this parliament as the Prime Minister. I want to see that continue to happen. I want to see young women across this country aspire to work in this place and know they can do so in safety and dignity and be treated with respect. And so, when Brittany Higgins says to us, all of us, that we failed her, we must hear that, we must listen to it and we must respond to it.

The fact that what happened to her happened in one of the most senior offices in this place—we must understand that we have to deal with that. I understand that people have talked about Ms Higgins's desire for her own agency, but, as an organisation, it is completely unacceptable that we do not respond to such an action in this place in every possible way. As an organisation we must respond. As parties and individual parliamentarians we must respond. And we must respond in a way that shows we understand the cultural aspects of this place and will make sure that it is a culture that welcomes and respects women and sees the number of women participating at the top level of their country continue to grow.

I want to acknowledge that the Prime Minister has now said there will be an independent review.

I think that must happen. Whilst people feel that they cannot pursue justice, which is what Ms Higgins has said, because they feared they would lose their job, that is a culture we cannot tolerate. We must deal with this. Whilst I've had the opportunity to participate in debates on behalf of my constituents, I will leave this place this week with a very brave young woman, Brittany Higgins, at the front of my mind. I hope, and I believe, we should all leave with an absolute determination that for every other young woman out there we make sure that the culture of this place endorses their full and respected participation in this place.

Watch Sharon’s speech here.