Australian National University Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt says former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins has become a spokesperson for women across Australia and he expects her new role at the ANU will lead to meaningful change at the highest levels.
As she continues her quest - in the wake of watershed allegations she had been sexually assaulted in 2019 in a ministerial office - to make workplaces, including Parliament House, safer for all women, Ms Higgins has been appointed inaugural visiting fellow at the ANU's Global Institute for Women's Leadership.
Former prime minister Julia Gillard, who established and led the original institute at King's College London, has welcomed Ms Higgins an "incredible leader" and "a powerful force for change".
Professor Schmidt says the institute is about empowering women, making Ms Higgins right for the role
"I think that Brittany Higgins has become a spokesperson for women across the country,' he told The Canberra Times.
"Experiences like Brittany Higgins have are disempowering to women. They cause women to disengage with politics, with leadership in general.
"And so, to my mind, she has got an opportunity I think to take the wisdom that she has gained over the last year and hopefully be able to combine that with our researchers, who are experts in data and analysis, and hopefully try to pave a better way forward for Australian women."
As part of her role, Ms Higgins will help advance work on a proposed code of conduct to improve standards in Parliament House and parliamentary workplaces, as well as striving to prevent and respond in all workplaces to abuse, harassment and sexual misconduct.
She said in a statement, "I am dedicated to driving meaningful change in Parliament House, and all Australian workplaces, so that our systems work better to prevent and respond to inappropriate workplace conduct.
"All women have the right to feel safe and respected at work and in society more broadly.
"The 2021 Women's Safety Summit was a great first step to addressing these challenges. Now more than ever in the midst of growing inequality as a result of COVID-19, it's important to ensure words are translated into action."
The ANU is the first university in the world to partner with the institute, which was established and is led by Ms Gillard.
The former prime minister said Ms Higgins was "a powerful force for change" and she is delighted she has joined her initiative.
"In Brittany, Australia has an incredible leader who is already having a profound impact," Ms Gillard said.
"I applaud her courage in coming forward with her experiences, and her determination to make sure other women do not ever have to go through what she has.
"Her bravery should and must lead to meaningful change, not only in our workplaces, but across all our society."
A fierce national conversation about the treatment of women erupted after Ms Higgins, a former government media adviser, alleged in February that she had been sexually assaulted in 2019 in the parliamentary office of government minister Linda Reynolds. A man has been charged and is pleading not guilty.
It has led to various inquiries, public rallies and further revelations.
Professor Schmidt says the institute's work through the ANU will assist any such inquiry or formal mechanism for change.
"You need to have real lived experiences to inform how you get meaningful change from the evidence," he said.
"So from my perspective, it's about making sure those formal inquiries have the best set of evidence and information and ideas so that they can make sensible recommendations that hopefully will be followed through and actually then make Parliament House a workplace that is safe for everyone and one that promotes female participation in our parliamentary processes.
"It's not just Parliament House, it's actually the whole parliament and all the things that feed into parliament and all the people are working to help make Parliament run on the sides."
The criminal case regarding the alleged assault is currently before the ACT court system.