Celia Hammond
Liberal member for Curtin Celia Hammond

Brittany Higgins’ public rape claims — again, not the alleged rape itself, just her going public with it — has sparked a flurry of activity from the Liberal Party.

Member for Curtin Celia Hammond will review workplace culture and work with party whips and MPs to improve workplace standards and protect staff; deputy secretary of governance and public service reform Stephanie Foster will also look at the formal processes and links between the Department of Finance and parliamentary staff.

Why weren’t these processes established after the [email protected] report was released last year, and why has an internal figure been appointed to review complaints instead of an independent body?

Who is Celia Hammond?

Hammond was elected to the House of Representatives for Curtin, Western Australia, in 2019 after Julie Bishop resigned. Her appointment was somewhat controversial. Bishop reportedly wanted a moderate to replace her and clashed with then-finance minister Mathias Cormann over supporting Hammond, a conservative Catholic.

Before joining politics, Hammond was a legal practitioner, law lecturer, and vice-chancellor at Notre Dame University in Fremantle. During her time as vice-chancellor, she led its response to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2017 report on sexual assault and harassment at universities, the key reason Prime Minister Scott Morrison picked her to look into Liberal Party culture.

The survey found 32% of NDU students reported being sexually harassed at the university or while travelling to and from the institution in 2016, and 1.1% had been assaulted on campus.

Despite representing an electorate that overwhelmingly supports marriage equality, Hammond has clashed with the LGBTIQ community during her time at NDU. She was accused of dragging her feet on a review into policies and practices which affected LGBTIQ students in 2016.

In 2017 Hammond sent an email to the student organisation at the Catholic university. In it she described the rainbow pride flag as politically charged, and didn’t approve of it being displayed on any other parts of the campus. Generously, she allowed two postage-stamp-sized flags to be shown in the student organisation’s windows.

She has also criticised sex before marriage, contraception, and abortion, labelling feminism as “anti-tradition, anti-men, anti-society, anti-family” and as being associated with “anti-everything agitators”.

Is her appointment appropriate?

Hammond’s and Foster’s appointments have drawn criticism: Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and Labor’s spokesperson for women, Tanya Plibersek, called for the review to be genuinely independent and led by an outside expert.

Research has shown parliamentary staff have found making complaints is too risky as it may affect their employment or perceived loyalty to the party.

Eleanor Campbell, from Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, tells Crikey there are plenty of intersectional feminists trained in trauma-informed policy well-placed to lead the review — and action is more important than more analysis.

“There are enough resources in society to respond without more fact-finding,” she said, although she welcomed the opportunity for women to be able to share their experiences.

“Reporting to a person in power at an organisation might not be a viable way to address and report these issues.

“There are issues around prevention. What is actively being done to prevent sexual violence in the workplace? What [the government’s response] speaks to is motivation.”

Has the Liberal Party implemented [email protected] recommendations?

The landmark inquiry into workplace sexual harassment delivered its report last year. It deems all workplace sexual harassment as a form of gender-based violence.

The inquiry, led by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, recommended governments have strategies to prevent violence against women based on national framework Change the Story.

It also recommended the government ratifies the International Labour Organisation’s Convention on Violence and Harassment in the world of work — which still hasn’t happened.

The prime minister’s office didn’t respond to Crikey’s questions about whether appointing an internal MP to review workplace culture was appropriate. It also didn’t respond to questions around which, if any, recommendations had been implemented from [email protected]