But moving past what he called “a public trial by media” will be difficult.
“This issue is not resolved,” said Senator Sarah Hanson-Young of the Greens Party, one of the lawmakers who have read the letter detailing the accuser’s account. “There is a real sense out there in the community that issues like this need to be taken much more seriously.”
If calls for independent inquiries and tougher standards are only now being heard, they come after years of whispered complaints inside Australia’s government. Canberra, a manicured capital designed to be set apart from competing states, has long been a boozy playground for men, a threatening environment for women, and a secret society where misdeeds are expected to be kept hidden.
Many advocates for women note that while businesses, universities and other institutions in Australia have tried to get better at dealing with sexual misconduct — partly to protect their own reputations — the government continues to behave as if it were the 1970s.
“Parliament has become more and more disconnected from the mores of a modern workplace,” said Susan Harris-Rimmer, a law professor at Griffith University. “It’s still a gentleman’s club kind of mentality.”
The messiness of the past few weeks, she added, with names of the accused surfacing on social media and disputes arising over when the political leadership learned about cases, shows just how far Canberra needs to go to fix its culture.
Nearly four years into the #MeToo movement, both Britain and Canada have introduced new complaint mechanisms that attempt to address the often-extreme power imbalances that dissuade people from coming forward.
In Australia, Ms. Harris-Rimmer said, “We have not been proactive about those changes.”
Ms. Higgins, the woman who said she was raped in Parliament two years ago after taking a job as a media adviser, said she initially pursued charges with the police. She later dropped them, she said, because of internal pressure from the governing Liberal Party that made her feel as if she had to choose between her work and justice.