In the days since all four women went public, Prime Minister Morrison has announced several inquiries into areas such as workplace culture, how sexual abuse accusations are handled by the government and what his own office knew about the alleged assault of Ms. Higgins at the time. Some of the investigations will be conducted by government ministers and others by independent agencies, he said.
Critics have said the government’s response has been lackluster. Governmental inquiries, they say, are likely to fall short of the kind of drastic cultural shift required to change attitudes toward women in Parliament and beyond.
“A review is a political Band-Aid,” said Rachael Burgin, a lecturer in criminology at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne. “I’ve seen nothing from anyone in the government to suggest that they’ve taken it seriously enough to see some substantive change,” Dr. Burgin added.
Others have questioned Mr. Morrison’s claims that he had no knowledge of the alleged assault when it first occurred. Mr. Morrison has said he did not know about it until Feb. 12. He has since asked Phil Gaetjens, the secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, to conduct an inquiry.
Ms. Higgins’s former boss in Parliament, Defense Minister Linda Reynolds, has also apologized to Ms. Higgins, especially for holding a meeting about the alleged assault in the same room where it had occurred. On Wednesday, as Ms. Reynolds was set to discuss her handling of the accusations, she was hospitalized, citing existing medical conditions.
Ms. Higgins has said she was “determined to drive significant reform in the way the Australian Parliament handles issues of this nature and treats ministerial and parliamentary staff more generally.” She said that, for example, in 2019, an employee in the prime minister’s office had refused to provide her with access to the closed-circuit television footage from the evening of the alleged assault.
“Brittany Higgins is giving us an opportunity here to actually fix something,” said Clare O’Neil, a member of the opposition Labor Party. “This is a nation’s Parliament. We should be setting the standard, not the floor.”