Pictured: Lisa Wilkinson on Thursday
Lisa Wilkinson, Brittany Higgins and David Sharaz can be heard bad-mouthing Linda Reynolds in a resurfaced recording – calling the senator a ‘nobody’ who was promoted to minister because there was a ‘shallow talent pool’.
The audio, obtained by Daily Mail Australia, was captured during a five-hour conversation between Wilkinson, Channel 10 producer Angus Llewellyn, Ms Higgins and her fiancé Mr Sharaz in a Sydney hotel room on January 27, 2021.
The purpose of the meeting was to decide how best to approach Ms Higgins’ forthcoming interview on The Project, in which she alleged she was raped by Bruce Lehrmann in Senator Reynolds’ office in Parliament House in 2019.
Mr Lehrmann has always denied the allegations.
Key parts of the recording were played during a segment on Channel Seven’s Spotlight program on Sunday evening, including multiple clips where the group appeared to sledge the former defence minister.
Separately, Senator Reynolds is suing Mr Sharaz for defamation over five social media posts he uploaded in 2022. She also sent a concerns notice to Ms Higgins last week to indicate she may sue her over an Instagram story.
Lisa Wilkinson could be heard bad-mouthing Linda Reynolds during a five-hour recorded conversation
The criticisms started just 12 minutes into the five-hour conversation, when Wilkinson told the group that Senator Reynolds ‘stood up in Parliament and said the Liberal Party has a women problem’.
Wilkinson then said another Liberal MP, Julia Banks, previously told her Senator Reynolds was only given the defence portfolio ‘as part of that issue being solved’.
‘She was promised a portfolio … in order to be quiet,’ she told the group.
Ms Higgins, who was a staffer for Ms Reynolds when she was allegedly assaulted, replied: ‘Absolutely.’
‘The general sort of notion that there was like a shallow talent pool and who we could foster up, and it likely solved like a temporary short-term issue in the party of who could we elevate to, sort of, mitigate this public image issue.’
A few hours later, Mr Llewellyn told the group he wasn’t sure who Senator Reynolds was: ‘Sorry, I’m ignorant of Reynolds’ status,’ he said.
Mr Sharaz interjected: ‘She’d hate that.’
Mr Llewellyn asked: ‘Is she a senator? … She’s a senator for WA?’
Ms Higgins had to explain that she was a senator for Western Australia and, in 2019, she was the defence industry minister.
Senator Reynolds was intermittently the topic of conversation throughout the meeting, but it wasn’t until the last few hours of the chat that Wilkinson honed in on the former MP.
‘And if anybody wants to feel fired-up about zeroing in on Linda Reynolds, I’ve just found our private messages,’ Wilkinson suddenly declared.
Linda Reynolds (pictured) is suing David Sharaz for defamation, and sent a concerns notice to Ms Higgins
David Sharaz is pictured with Brittany Higgins. The pair engaged in a five-hour conversation with Lisa Wilkinson and her producer
Her fury towards the senator appeared to stem from a social media argument between the pair two year earlier, in 2019.
‘Oh god,’ Ms Higgins replied.
‘Did you see our private exchange?’ Wilkinson asked.
Ms Higgins, who worked as a media advisor for Senator Reynolds in 2019, said: ‘I did, I did, it was very scary.’
Wilkinson said: ‘She went for me publicly, and then I tried to come back reasonably, and then I thought, “I’m not going to do this publicly.”
‘I’m trying to working out who this f**king woman is. Like, I’d never heard of her.’
‘She’s a nobody.’
Mr Sharaz joked: ‘Oh, here’s a big fan.’
Wilkinson’s producer, Llewellyn, then laughed, ‘Huge fan, huge fan, get the T-shirts.
Wilkinson proceeded to read the private back-and-forth between herself and Senator Reynolds, often stopping to gauge reactions from the three other people in the room.
Later in the day, David said he had asked Ms Higgins why she wanted to publicise her allegations on national television – ‘I asked Britt, “ultimately, what do you want out of this?”,’ he said.
‘And she goes “well, I want Bruce to forever have it difficult getting a job, like it’s going to be difficult for me.’
Addressing Ms Higgins directly, he recalled, ‘and then you said, best case scenario, Linda Reynolds”.’
The group erupted with laughter.
Brittany Higgins alleges Bruce Lehrmann (pictured left, with his lawyer) raped her in Parliament House. He denies the allegation
The resurfaced audio comes just days after Mr Sharaz confirmed he had been served with defamation papers by Senator Reynolds’ lawyers.
According to the writ, obtained by Daily Mail Australia, Senator Reynolds claimed she was defamed in three Twitter posts between January and December last year, one Instagram post in April, and one Facebook comment in December.
Mr Sharaz appears to have deactivated his Facebook profile, made his Instagram account private and removed about 2,000 followers recently.
Senator Reynolds is seeking damages and an injunction against Mr Sharaz from publishing the allegedly defamatory material, and costs.
She is also seeking interest on damages at a rate of six per cent from the date of publication to the date of judgement.
Ms Higgins lashed out Ms Reynolds in the post last week after the senator said she would refer the former political staffer’s compensation payout from the Commonwealth – reportedly worth up to $3million – to a new federal corruption watchdog.
In her original post, Ms Higgins included screenshots of news articles about Senator Reynolds claiming that Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus had shown prejudice over the inquiry into Bruce Lehrmann’s prosecution.
On Thursday Ms Higgins posted to Twitter: ‘I’ve just received a concerns notice from Linda Reynolds threatening defamation over an Instagram story. I’m considering my legal options.’
On Thursday afternoon Senator Reynolds issued a statement confirming the legal action and vowed: ‘I will not tolerate being defamed by her or anybody else.’
A concerns notice is the first legal step towards a defamation action.
Senator Reynolds’ lawyer Martin Bennett said Ms Higgins was yet to formally respond to the concerns notice.
LISA WILKINSON vs LINDA REYNOLDS: THE FULL EXCHANGE
Wilkinson’s tweet: ‘Julie Bishop, Julia Banks, Kelly O’Dwyer, Ann Sudmalis…. Makes you wonder just how many (or few) women will be left in the LNP after the next election. Not that there were that many to begin with…’
Reynolds’ public comment: ‘So disappointed in your trite trivialisation of the significant contributions Julie Bishop has made over a brilliant 20 yr career – she deserves far better.
‘FYI @LiberalAus has preselected over 20 new & wonderfully diverse and strong female candidates like @JNampijinpa.’
Wilkinson’s private reply: ‘Hi Linda, genuinely disappointed that after accusing me of something I didn’t do, and me politely responding, that you haven’t responded. Either defending your stance or apologising, I had hoped for better. Best regards, Lisa.’
Reynolds’ private reply: ‘Hi Lisa, now, after reading your response on Twitter, if you would like me to respond, I will. I did not read it or respond yesterday for what I hope you will agree is a valid reason.
‘My priority yesterday was travelling from flood-devastated communities in Central Queensland to do private town hall meetings with small Victorian communities around Wangaratta flattened by floods in December. I literally spent yesterday driving from Wodonga to Melbourne.
‘Re the substance of the issue, the reason I was deeply disappointed by your comments was because I felt that you had 364 other days to criticise the Liberal Party, without having a shot at the rest of us in a tweet about Julie’s retirement. I felt she deserves so much better. That may not have been your intent, but that is how I perceived it.
‘This issue is a deeply personal one for me, as I’ve been publicly and privately fighting for gender reform within the Liberal Party for over five years, after several years on gender reform in the army.
‘I would welcome the opportunity for a serious discussion with you on this privately. Gender reform in any organisation or profession is never easy, particularly so when it’s done in the hothouse of politics. Kind regards, Linda.’
Wilkinson’s private reply: ‘Dear Linda, I totally understand that you were doing your work as a politician yesterday. As I, and most other hardworking Australians, were working at our jobs too.
‘But you and/or your media team have been very active on Twitter since you had your go at me on Thursday evening. So, I find it very hard to believe that you didn’t see or weren’t informed of my immediate response. Or read, or been informed of the tweets from the many, many, many people who saw your comments as biased and unnecessarily nasty towards me. Even from your own followers.
‘And now, you want to do it again by suggesting that I criticise the Liberal party three hundred and sixty-five days a year. That’s just cheap and uneducated. I’ve been a very vocal supporter of Julie’s, please feel free to ask her about that significant support.
‘As it’s been both public and private. If you would like to look at my tweet one more time with a clear, unbiased head, I am making the point that the Liberal Party needs great women to populate it so it’s no longer seen as the party with the women problem. For democracy to work, we need strong parties, where both sexes are well represented.
‘Indeed, I can only presume it is for that very reason that you’re working so hard to try and achieve gender reform in the party. Shot with her own petard, right there. So, if that is your passion, why would you take a swipe at me for desiring the same thing. You genuinely leave me confused, Linda. Best regards, Lisa.’