Phil Gaetjens and Celia Hammond
Phil Gaetjens and Celia Hammond (Images: AAP)

It’s a measure of how worried Scott Morrison is about the fallout from the mistreatment by his government of Brittany Higgins that in the space of five days — after his disastrous “I checked with Jen” response — the prime minister announced not one, not two, not three, but four inquiries and reviews.

The first two — announced last week in an effort to put the Higgins revelations into a political siding — are one by Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) deputy secretary Stephanie Foster examining the processes in place for supporting people who come forward with complaints in the future. The second is an internal Coalition review by Liberal MP Celia Hammond looking at staffing issues.

A third — called in a panic when Morrison’s story that his office knew nothing of what happened to Higgins began to fall apart — is being conducted by PM&C head Phil Gaetjens to find out who inside the PM’s office knew about the alleged rape. It’s confined to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and it’s not clear it will ever be made public.

A fourth, future, review will look into workplace culture of parliamentarians and their staff, after Senate leader and Special Minister of State Simon Birmingham has consulted with other parties about terms of reference.

None address the core issues raised by Higgins who this week will speak to the Australian Federal Police to investigate her sexual assault in the offices of Linda Reynolds in March 2019.

In fact the panoply of inquiries seem designed to address everything but the serious questions raised by what happened to her and how it was handled: why so many parties knew about her assault and knew more details about her assault than she did; what the circumstances were of the departure of her alleged rapist and what bona fides were given to his future employers — a crucial issue given he is now accused of being a serial rapist; why there are so many flaws and inconsistencies in the account provided in the aftermath of the alleged assault by Morrison, Reynolds and others, such as Morrison’s assurance that the PMO knew nothing of what happened until two years later, or Reynolds’ insistence she was unaware Higgins had been raped.

And most of all, why did Higgins feel that she faced a choice of reporting the rape to police or keeping her job?

This is not merely a political issue of what Morrison knew and when, or whether he had a de facto policy of “don’t ask don’t tell” about such matters, or of the deeply toxic workplace culture over which Morrison (despite Nine newspapers’ efforts to portray him as separate from and above it) presided, but of whether a woman was discouraged from reporting a serious crime with an implied threat to her employment.

None of the slew of inquiries and reviews will go close to addressing these issues.

The Gaetjens inquiry is confined strictly to whether there is evidence individuals in the prime minister’s office knew about the rape — something already established by text messages and the employment there of Reynolds’ former chief of staff.

In any event, after his laughable sports rorts “inquiry” Gaetjens has little credibility when it comes to investigating a Coalition government.

For that matter the other three inquiries offer little of substance. The context for the internal Coalition review by right-wing MP Celia Hammond is that the government has been aware for a long time of a culture of bullying and misogyny within the Coalition and the sexual predation on staffers by senior ministers. These things are a matter of public record, and nothing has been done.

The review by Foster is entirely about internal systems for dealing with complaints by staffers, which fails — deliberately — to recognise that fixing an internal process will do nothing if, as has been the case with the PMO’s response to what Higgins revealed, the political imperative from the PMO down is to downplay, cover up and distract from such complaints as much as possible.

As for the review Birmingham is discussing terms of reference on with other parties on political workplaces, those workplaces are the creation of the parties themselves and reflect the needs and wishes of the parties. Asking politicians to review their own workplaces is nonsensical.

Only an external, independent inquiry — with powers to access parliamentary records and communications between staffers and politicians, and question everyone from the PM down — can properly examine how the government so badly mishandled the rape of a young woman in its own ministerial offices.

If you or someone you know is affected by sexual assault or violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit