Parliament ‘secrets’ exposed by staffer

 

A former Coalition staffer has spoken of being "bullied horrifically and mistreated" during her time in Canberra, as she said she refuses to keep secrets for those who "misuse their power" after a bombshell Four Corners report.

Josie Coles, who worked at Parliament House for four years from September 2016 to January 2021, briefly appeared on Monday night's program - in which a veteran security guard said she found Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins naked and asleep after her alleged rape.

Ms Coles said on the program that "people in that building are hyped up on power" and that Parliament House is "a place built on secrets and lies".

In a statement posted to Twitter after the program, Ms Coles said her entire story was "unable to be included in the final cut" and she felt compelled to share her experience.

She said she was "severely let down over and over again" and witnessed "the misuse of power and sense of entitlement" daily.

"Politics was my passion. It is all I have ever known and all I have ever wanted to do; so for me it really was more than a job," she said.

But during her time in Canberra, she says she was "bullied horrifically and mistreated at the hands of both Ministers and senior staff".

Josie Coles appears on Four Corners.
Josie Coles appears on Four Corners.

Ms Coles said she stayed quiet over the years and was "terrified" to speak out, but when she saw Ms Higgins' story, she could relate.

"I refuse to accept this behaviour any longer; to keep the secrets of those people who choose to misuse their power at my expense and the expense of so, so many others," Ms Coles said.

Ms Higgins alleged she was raped by a colleague, in the parliamentary offices of her then-boss Linda Reynolds, in 2019.

The man was fired over a "security breach" after the alleged rape. He has not been charged with any crime. Police are investigating the matter.

"Whilst our circumstances are different, the culture that she spoke of I can most definitely agree with from my own time in the building," Ms Coles said.

She also credited the "strength" of former Liberal staffer Rachelle Miller, who appeared on Monday's episode, along with other female MPs, including Emma Husar, for inspiring her to speak.

Ms Coles spoke out against the Government push to change a clause in National Archives Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021, which she claims "would allow and enable Ministers and agencies to bury documents pertaining to historical and existing complaints of bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault".

Amendments to National Archives and Freedom Of Information (FOI) laws passed unanimously in the Upper House last week and the legislation is expected to go to the House of Representatives this week.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, a key player who helped set up the inquiry, said the legislation provides both current and former staff "the assurance that if they make a submission … that if they wish for their participation to remain confidential that it will remain so".

But Ms Coles shared some concerns.

"I want to support a review that offers staffers and those who work in Parliament House support, choice and options in relation to disclosures and complaints.

"However … I remain deeply concerned that this may do little more than to continue to protect the Parliamentarians from being accountable."

She said if the Bill is passed without amendment, her fears will be realised that "this Government has no interest in justice for staff who have been bullied, harassed or assaulted."

 

Former Liberal party staffer Brittany Higgins.
Former Liberal party staffer Brittany Higgins.

Meanwhile the Parliament House security guard on duty the night of the alleged rape of Ms Higgins has revealed what happened when she discovered the former Liberal staffer.

"As I opened the door, I noticed that the female was lying on her back, completely naked, on the lounge that was adjacent to the door, for which I've gone, 'Oh,'" she told Four Corners.

"Oh God. And I mean, oh God, because I've never come across anything like that.

"The sound of the door or the breeze of the door opening has then made the female open her eyes, look at me. And then she's rolled over onto her side.

"So, therefore, my [take] on it was that she's conscious. She's breathing. She doesn't look like she's in distress. She's just sleeping off her night. And with that, I shut the door, and I exited the room."

Ms Anderson insisted she had no reason to believe an alleged crime had been committed and now fears she could be scapegoated in any inquiry.

"I made sure her dignity was intact by shutting this door … I was trying to do the right thing by keeping her dignity intact."

Security guard Nikola Anderson. Picture: ABC
Security guard Nikola Anderson. Picture: ABC

Since Ms Higgins spoke out last month, several more allegations have surfaced against Australian politicians and political staffers.

Then, earlier this month, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across the country, with more than 40 Women's March 4 Justice rallies taking place across Australia.

"My story was on the front page for the sole reason that it is a painful reminder to women that, if it can happen in Parliament House, it can truly happen anywhere," Ms Higgins said.

 

 

 

Originally published as Parliament 'secrets' exposed by staffer


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