Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has extended her leave raising questions of her future in politics after she called alleged rape victim Brittany Higgins a ‘lying cow’.
Ms Reynolds was taken to hospital for a pre-existing heart condition on February 24 and was due to return from medical leave on March 8 before pushing back the return date to April 2.
Her doctors advised her to extend her leave by a month and members of the Morrison ministry added she will likely not return to duties in the next three weeks, The Age reported.
Ms Reynolds came under fire after several staff members and public servants heard her in her office refer to Ms Higgins as a ‘lying cow’ on February 15.
It was the same day Ms Higgins went public with allegations a senior colleague raped her in Senator Reynolds’ Parliament House office after a night out in March, 2019.
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has extended her leave raising questions of her future in politics after she called alleged rape victim Brittany Higgins a ‘lying cow’
Ms Reynolds came under fire after several staff members and public servants heard her in her office refer to Ms Higgins as a ‘lying cow’ on February 15
Ms Reynolds, who claims the remark was made in relation to media reports and not the rape allegation, formally apologised for the comment and has come under heavy public and political scrutiny.
Speculation has swirled whether she will return to her office at all, though friends and workmates in the Morrison Government insist everything is fine.
A source claims Ms Reynolds got the medical certificate to delay her return to work before her ‘lying cow’ comment was picked up by the media.
Ms Reynolds has reportedly been given new medication by her cardiologist, who wants to assess its effectiveness before giving the green light for her to return to work.
‘[The decision] is being taken on a week-by-week basis,’ the source said. ‘She wants to be back as soon as she can be.’
One unnamed source said Ms Reynolds had ‘shot herself in the foot’ because of the comment about Ms Higgins.
Another one claimed prime minister Scott Morrison usually stood by his ministers instead of moving them on, The Age reported.
‘The PM really doesn’t like moving people on, he values continuity, especially in a big portfolio like defence,’ the source said.
Ms Reynold’s office released a statement addressing the extra medical leave.
‘On Tuesday March 2 Senator Reynolds was reassessed by her cardiologist in relation to a preexisting medical condition, which had earlier required her to take a brief period of leave,’ the statement read.
‘The day after that consultation Senator Reynolds was issued a medical certificate which extended her leave until April 2.’
The statement said Mr Morrison had been updated about the extended leave and that foreign minister Marise Payne will continue to act as defence minister until Ms Reynolds returns.
‘Senator Reynolds is recuperating well and looks forward to resuming her duties as Defence Minister as soon as possible,’ the statement read.
Daily Mail Australia contacted Ms Reynolds for comment.
A spokesperson for Ms Reynolds said the defence minister was being ‘regularly assessed’ by her cardiologist
One unnamed source said Ms Reynolds had ‘shot herself in the foot’ because of the comment about Ms Higgins while another one claimed prime minister Scott Morrison usually stood by his ministers instead of moving them on
Ms Higgins threatened to sue Ms Reynolds if she did not apologise for her ‘lying cow’ comment.
Ms Reynolds released a statement the following day saying she was ‘deeply sorry’.
‘In response to a letter from Ms Higgins’ lawyers yesterday afternoon, discussions are now underway through our legal representatives in an effort to resolve this matter as soon as possible, with any resolution to include an apology.
‘However, in the meantime, I want to express how deeply sorry I am for these remarks and for any hurt and distress they have caused,’ she said.
It comes as Finance Minister Simon Birmingham announced a review into workplace culture in parliament house.
The review will be led by Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins and will publicly report its findings by November.
Mr Birmingham said the review will consider ‘how to change the culture, how to change the practices, and how to ensure that, in future, we do have the best possible environment for prevention and response’ to bullying and harassment allegations.
The prime minister said Senator Linda Reynolds (pictured) was frustrated over suggestions she did not give enough support to Miss Higgins at the time of the incident
Senator Reynolds (pictured with Miss Higgins) has known about the alleged rape for more than two years but did not inform the prime minister to respect Miss Higgins’ privacy and welfare
In a letter to Senator Reynolds, Miss Higgins’ lawyer Rebekah Giles called the statement ‘demeaning and belittling’ and ‘highly defamatory of our client’s good character and unblemished reputation’.
‘The cavalier manner in which those words were spoken make it plain that they were not spoken privately or in confidence,’ she wrote.
‘You are also aware that this distasteful character assassination of our client has been republished widely, causing her immense hurt and distress.
‘Your comments are particularly malicious in view of the assault on our client that took place in your office, which is now the subject of a police investigation.’
Brittany Higgins, then 24, has alleged she was raped by a colleague inside Parliament House in March 2019
Ms Higgins said the comments were ‘incredibly hurtful’, and hit back at Ms Reynolds’ statement on Wednesday that blamed the remark on ‘stress’.
‘I appreciate that it has been a stressful time but that sort of behaviour and language is never excusable,’ Miss Higgins said in a statement.
‘It’s just further evidence of the toxic workplace culture that occurs behind closed doors in Parliament House.’
Senator Reynolds apologised to staff shortly after making the comment, and told Prime Minister Scott Morrison it was ‘inappropriate and wrong’.
She also said the remark was not in reference to the rape allegation, but to separate reports detailing her own response to the incident.
Scott Morrison said the remark was made in a private office and she later apologised to staff for the outburst
Ms Reynolds denied questioning Miss Higgins’ allegations or besmirching her character.
‘I have never questioned Miss Higgins’ account of her alleged sexual assault and have always sought to respect her agency in this matter,’ she said in a statement.
‘I did however comment on news reports regarding surrounding circumstances that I felt had been misrepresented.’
Miss Higgins didn’t proceed with the police complaint in 2019 out of fear she would lose her job as a media adviser.
Former NSW Liberal staffer Dhanya Mani said the Ms Reynolds should be ‘disciplined’ for the comments, and asked her to consider whether she had ‘internalised misogyny’ due to her work in federal politics.
‘For there to be an environment that exists in which an extremely senior woman in politics felt that she would be able to say that somebody who… has come forward with rape allegations is a ‘lying cow’ is a reflection of just how broken our parliaments are,’ she said on ABC’s Q&A on Thursday night.
Miss Higgins says the comments made by Ms Reynolds were ‘incredibly hurtful’
‘How misogynistic our parliaments can be and of the gaslighting and abuse that parliamentarians are prepared to put at the feet of survivors.
‘Linda Reynolds is part of the problem. Usually there would be disciplinary action. There needs to be disciplinary action.’
Mr Morrison criticised Ms Reynolds for the comment, but refused to sack her.
Speaking at a battery factory in the New South Wales Hunter Valley on Thursday, the prime minister said she was under ‘significant stress’ when she made comments.
‘She deeply regrets it. They were offensive remarks. She should never have made them. I don’t condone them,’ Mr Morrison said.
Independent senator Jacqui Lambie is calling for the minister to quit over the remark.
‘She’s gone this morning. She needs to resign immediately,’ Senator Lambie told Sky News.
‘If she’s not coming out denying that, if she’s trying to smooth it over and throw it somewhere else then I think she’s finished. Her career’s done.’
Senior Labor frontbencher Penny Wong said Senator Reynolds needed to explain herself.
‘It’s obviously not an acceptable comment and I think the minister needs to respond publicly,’ she told ABC radio.
Independent MP Zali Steggall said she was shocked to hear Senator Reynolds used the derogatory term towards Miss Higgins.
‘That’s incredibly disappointing and inappropriate of Linda Reynolds and the minister should know better,’ she told the Nine Network.
‘It makes her position all the more untenable.’
Brittany Higgins has hit back at Linda Reynolds after it was revealed she called her a ‘lying cow’
Miss Higgins has recently reinstated her official rape allegation with the Australian Federal Police.
Three other women have since alleged they were assaulted by the same man.
He was sacked as a ministerial adviser because of a security breach on the night of Miss Higgins’ alleged rape.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne has taken over Defence duties while Ms Reynolds is on leave.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton previously admitted he was told about the alleged rape but chose not to tell the prime minister about it to avoid compromising a potential police investigation.
Mr Dutton confirmed Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw informed him about the alleged assault on February 11, four days before Mr Morrison says he was told.
Miss Higgins spoke to police on February 5, with the AFP then informing Mr Dutton.
BRITTANY HIGGINS TIMELINE
March 22: Anonymous male staffer of Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and media adviser Brittany Higgins arrive at Parliament House intoxicated.
A security officer signs in the pair and then takes them to the ministerial wing before leaving. Ms Higgins is then allegedly raped and left alone by staffer.
March 23: Security officers find Ms Higgins half-naked in the office early in the morning. The Department of Finance (which is in charge of Parliament House offices) request room to be cleaned before work on Monday (March 25)
March 26: Senator Reynolds’ chief of staff holds a meeting with Ms Higgins over a ‘security breach’. The male staffer is also brought in for a separate meeting and is sacked. His Parliament House pass is cancelled the next day.
April 1: Ms Higgins meets with her boss – Senator Reynolds – and the minister’s chief of staff Fiona Brown to talk about the alleged rape. The meeting takes place in the same room as the alleged rape.
April 4: Senator Reynolds and Ms Brown meet with AFP assistant commissioner to discuss ‘allegations of sexual assault’.
April 8: Ms Higgins goes to Belconnen police station. There is dispute over whether officers have trouble accessing the CCTV footage from Parliament House.
April 13: Ms Higgins tells police she won’t proceed with complaint. She later told reporters she felt pressure not to be a distraction during the federal election – which was called two days earlier on April 11.
June: Ms Higgins begins to work for minister Michaelia Cash after the election
November 9: ABC’s Four Corners’ airs a story exposing the ‘sex and booze’ culture in Canberra, including an affair between married minister Alan Tudge and his staffer Rachelle Miller.
February 5: Ms Higgins resigns from her new job, working for Senator Michaelia Cash, due to the ongoing trauma from the alleged rape.
February 11: Peter Dutton is briefed by Australian Federal Police over Ms Higgins’ allegations. He advises the Prime Minister’s Office the following day but does not tell Scott Morrison
February 15: news.com.au break Ms Higgins’ story on Monday morning. Mr Morrison claims it is the first time he was made aware of the allegations.
Journalist Samantha Maiden questions why the PM was not made aware of the allegations by his staffers, saying she approached the government for comment at 2.30pm on Friday February 12 regarding the allegations.
The Project interview Ms Higgins later the same night.
February 16: Mr Morrison and Ms Reynolds both offer apologies in parliament.