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Minister desperate for complaints overhaul

Senior Liberal minister Jane Hume has conceded an independent and confidential complaints system is desperately needed inside Parliament House.

Australian Federal Police have received 19 separate allegations of misconduct against politicians and staff in the past three months.

Twelve of the matters have been deemed “sensitive” investigations.

Despite the flood of complaints, Senator Hume denied parliament was unsafe for women.

“Of course it is concerning that so many have come forward,” she told ABC radio.

“At least we’ve got the processes under way now to ensure there is an independent complaints (mechanism) established so people come forward if they do have concerns.”

However, there is still no independent complaints mechanism in place at Parliament House.

Senator Hume said such a system was “exactly the right way to go”.

“I can guarantee you mechanisms have improved dramatically just since the beginning of this year,” she said.

The police complaints have all been lodged since Brittany Higgins came forward with an allegation of rape inside a minister’s office.

The minister said Ms Higgins was exceptionally brave and praised her actions for empowering women to share their stories.

An investigation into who knew what and when in the prime minister’s office about the alleged rape will be finished within weeks.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said changing culture in politics was more important than making the report public.

“What we should be dealing with is the outcomes of those reports and to make sure there is a much better environment here in Parliament House,” she told Sky News.

“We can spend a lot of trawling over who’s said or done what but let’s be very clear, we need to improve the standards here in this workplace and at many workplaces right across Australia. Let’s focus on doing that.”

Ms Andrews vowed to not get involved in any police investigation after she receives federal police briefings about the sensitive investigations.

“I will do everything I can to make sure that is maintained at arm’s length from me and from government,” she said.

The minister is not surprised by the dramatic increase in complaints to police in recent months but believes people speaking out is a positive development.

One report that has been released was completed by the prime minister’s chief of staff.

He was investigating whether the prime minister’s office leaked negative information against Ms Higgins’ partner David Sharaz to undermine her.

The report did not clear the prime minister’s office of wrongdoing, but found there was not strong enough evidence to prove the claim.

Mr Sharaz is not surprised by the findings.

“The PM’s chief of staff undertakes an investigation into his own office and finds it’s functioning well. How unexpected,” he said in a statement.

“Even the most cynical person would see this for what it is: PMO staffers protecting themselves.

“We won’t be intimidated by those who wish to silence us.”

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