Brittany Higgins (pictured) went public with allegations that a colleague raped her
Scott Morrison has criticised Defence Minister Linda Reynolds for calling alleged rape victim Brittany Higgins a ‘lying cow’ – 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.
Miss Higgins said the comments were ‘incredibly hurtful’ and were further evidence of a ‘toxic workplace culture behind close doors at parliament house’.
Ms Reynolds made the comments within earshot of several staff members and public servants on February 15, according to The Australian, but has since insisted the remark was not in reference to the alleged sexual assault.
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.
Ms Reynolds issued a statement on Wednesday night saying she never questioned Ms Higgins’ allegations.
She said she was at the time upset with news reports about the circumstances of the alleged rape and the response to it which she thought were inaccurate.
When several staff members told their superiors Ms Reynolds’ comments were inappropriate, the minister reportedly called a staff meeting and apologised.
Mr Morrison said Senator Reynolds was under ‘significant stress’ and regretted the comments
She told her employees the remark was made during ‘a stressful time’ for everyone in the office.
Mr Morrison said Senator Reynolds regretted the comments and has apologised to her staff.
When asked if Senator Reynolds should step down, he shook his head and said: ‘I’m sure that all of you have found yourself, at a time of frustration, perhaps saying things you regret.’
Senator Jacqui Lambie said Ms Reynolds’ career was over.
‘She’s gone this morning, she needs to resign immediately. You know, there’s just no need for this,’ she told Sky News.
‘What is she sitting in denial is she? Seriously.
‘Yeah, I think Reynolds has gone… she’s not coming out and denying that, now she’s trying to smooth it over and throw it somewhere else.
‘Then I think she’s finished, her career is done.’
Ms Reynolds, who is on medical leave until next week, said in a statement on Wednesday that she did not doubt Ms Higgins’ rape claims.
‘A report in The Australian attributed some remarks to me regarding the very serious allegations made by my former staff member, Ms Brittany Higgins,’ she said.
‘I have never questioned Ms Higgins account of her alleged sexual assault and have always sought to respect her agency in this matter.
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds (pictured) says she never doubted Brittany Higgins’ claims
Brittany Higgins, then 24, alleged she was raped by a colleague inside Parliament House in March 2019
Ms Higgins, who has said she was not supported well enough after her alleged rape, wished Senator Reynolds a speedy recovery
‘I did however comment on news reports regarding surrounding circumstances that I felt had been misrepresented.
‘I have consistently respected Ms Higgins’s agency and privacy and said this is her story to tell and no one else’s.
‘Ms Higgins’s allegations are very serious and that is how they must be treated to ensure her legal rights are protected. I welcome her decision to progress this matter with the Australian Federal Police.’
Ms Reynolds has faced sustained pressure over her handling of Ms Higgins’ initial rape allegations and her alleged failure to tell Prime Minister Scott Morrison about them for two years.
She said she learned about the allegations ‘incrementally, over a period of days’ and that her then-chief of staff Fiona Brown gave Ms Higgins access to police if she wanted to make a complaint.
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.
Senator Reynolds (pictured with Ms Higgins) has known about the alleged rape for more than two years but did not inform the prime minister to respect Ms Higgins’ privacy and welfare
‘I have full confidence that my then chief of staff and I at all times acted in what we believed were the best interests of Brittany,’ the Senator said last month.
Mr Morrison is adamant he first learned about the alleged rape on February 15 when the story was published on news.com.au.
When asked whether it was acceptable that the defence minister didn’t tell him or his office about the alleged crime, Mr Morrison said: ‘It’s not, and it shouldn’t happen again.’
Ms Reynolds was released from hospital in late February after being admitted days for an existing condition on the advice of her cardiologist.
‘As a precautionary measure, Minister Reynolds has this morning been admitted to a Canberra Hospital,’ a statement said earlier last week.
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.
Since Ms Higgins made her allegation public last week, three other women have come forward to accuse the same man of sexual assault or harassment
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.
Ms Higgins spoke to police on February 5, with the AFP then informing Mr Dutton.
Since Ms Higgins made her allegation public, three other women have come forward to accuse the same man of sexual assault or harassment.
The man was sacked after the alleged rape for breaching security rules by entering Ms Reynolds’ office at night.
The allegations have prompted another former intern to share details about her experiences with the man on a couch in the office of a Nationals senator at Parliament House in 2014.
While she says their encounters were consensual, she claims she felt ‘pressured’ to have sex with him on other occasions.
‘Nothing ‘rapey’ happened. But that makes me feel really ill. I feel like he wanted to [take me there] because he wanted to show off his power. He was obviously much more important than I was,’ the woman told news.com.au.
‘There was one time I kept saying, ‘No, I am really tired, I don’t want to do anything’ and he kept being like, ‘Oh, come on. Come on’.’
She also shared Facebook messages which refer to the couch in the senator’s office, which the man insists is ‘comfortable’ as he invited her there.
‘The lounge in his office is really comfy, good for doing readings. Haha,’ he wrote.
The woman replied: ‘Mmm, depends, do you tend to talk a lot whilst studying?’
The man added he’s usually ‘a good boy’ and has an essay to write.
Ms Higgins pictured with Senator Micahela Cash (left) former Liberal Party deputy leader Julie Bishop (right)
She claimed the encounter occurred five years before the staffer allegedly raped Ms Higgins.
The woman was a university student at the time and interning for a Labor MP.
The man, whom she described as ‘ambitious’ with dreams of becoming Prime Minister, was also an intern at the time for a Nationals MP.
She first met him at drinks where she got ‘very drunk’ and went back to his house.
‘We kissed that night. I was very drunk and he was totally sober,’ the woman recalled.
‘I never felt weird about that but there were other instances where he definitely pressured me. We never had proper sex.’
The woman says she will come forward to police to make a statement if it helps with their inquiries.
Scott Morrison said he is confident Linda Reynolds will keep her job despite copping criticism over her handling of Brittany Higgins’ rape allegations. Pictured with alleged rape survivor Brittany Higgins
Ms Higgins previously said she did not immediately report the alleged rape to police out of fear that she would lose her ‘dream job’, but resigned earlier this month before making the allegations last Monday.
Her alleged rapist has checked himself into a private rehabilitation clinic after losing his job at a large corporation.
Two more women accused the former government worker of rape after Ms Higgins went public last week, and now a fourth alleged victim has taken her story to Canberra police on Sunday.
Alleged rape survivor Brittany Higgins
The fourth woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, told the ABC the ‘really sleazy’ alleged rapist stroked her thigh on a night out in 2017.
Ms Higgins’ claim, which was formally stated to police on Wednesday, opened the floodgates for others to share their stories.
The latest woman to come forward was with colleagues at Canberra’s Public Bar in 2017 when the alleged rapist touched her thigh uninvited.
She said it was not the first or last time she received unwanted advances from male colleagues.
‘By that time, I was just so used to sexual harassment I just brushed it off,’ she said.
After speaking to officers from the local police station on Sunday afternoon, the woman said she received a call from the Australian Federal Police’s Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Team.
The third woman said she was assaulted while working as a coalition volunteer during the 2016 election campaign.
She was barely out of school at the time of the attack, which allegedly occurred after a night out drinking with the then-political staffer.
During the night out, she claims he bought her several rounds of ‘double strength’ vodkas and three tequila shots.
The boozy night prompted the young volunteer, who had never been drunk before, to vomit in the nightclub bathroom.
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
When everybody else had left, the woman said she told him she was going to catch an Uber home, and he suggested they go back to his hotel room ‘around the corner’ instead, and he would ‘look after her’, she told The Australian.
After they arrived, she passed out while laying on his bed and allegedly woke up with her clothes undone and the staffer allegedly lying on top of her.
The woman, who was a virgin, said she was uncertain as to whether he was conscious or sleeping, but she bolted from the room into the hotel lobby toilet, where she discovered she was ‘bleeding’.
Feeling embarrassed and ashamed, the woman made her way home and did not tell police, her family or friends.
‘I believe his actions on the night of June 29 and the morning of June 30 constitute sexual assault, because he performed or tried to perform sexual acts on me whilst I was severely intoxicated and unable to provide valid and informed consent,’ she said.
Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds is seen during Question Time in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra in February, after Ms Higgins’ allegations were made public
‘I later realised I was so drunk, I was not able to give any consent’
‘Hearing Brittany Higgins’ story, it was so eerily similar, it made me think this person has a pattern of behaviour.’
The second alleged victim claimed she met the ministerial advisor in 2016 when he was working for Ms Reynolds during the election campaign.
‘We went back to my place and we were kissing… we were going to have sex and I said he had to wear a condom,’ she said.
‘He refused and we argued and I told him five or six times that we couldn’t have sex unless he wore a condom. I was drunk and he just got on top of me, I said no, and then he was inside of me and I kept saying no.’