Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has vowed to back his embattled minister Katy Gallagher ‘1,000 per cent’ as she swats away a storm of criticism over whether she misled Parliament about what she knew about Brittany Higgins’ rape claims.
Senator Gallagher faced an onslaught of questions every day this week from the Opposition, with the Coalition hoping she’d stumble over her involvement in Ms Higgins’ decision to go public with her allegations.
Finance Minister Ms Gallagher maintains she did nothing wrong, and flatly denies misleading parliament when she famously said ‘nobody knew anything’ during senate estimates in 2021.
She also says she had no direct involvement in her department’s compensation payout to Ms Higgins in December 2022.
In spite of her response, the Opposition have repeatedly insisted she still has questions to answer, and must be held to account.
Questions have been raised about Mr Albanese’s willingness to stand by her so steadfastly in the face of such adversity. Not once has he, nor any other Labor politician, appeared to falter in their support.
Ms Gallagher’s ‘toughness’ may play a part in that decision. Her colleagues describe her as a person of ‘extraordinary integrity’, a ‘trailblazer’ and a ‘fierce advocate for women’.
Ms Higgins’ now-fiancé David Sharaz – who claimed to be ‘friends’ with Ms Gallagher – described her as ‘politically savage’ in leaked text messages.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has vowed to back his embattled minister Katy Gallagher ‘1,000 per cent’ as she swats away a storm of criticism over whether she misled Parliament about what she knew about Brittany Higgins’ rape claims
Ms Higgins’ now-fiancé David Sharaz – who claimed to be ‘friends’ with Ms Gallagher – described her as ‘politically savage’ in leaked text messages
Life marked by hardship
She herself admits there’s little that rattles her, after an early adult life marked by tragedy and hardship.
Speaking to City News in 2012, ahead of her move into federal politics, she said: ‘Some of my colleagues in the Assembly probably underestimate me a little bit, that I am probably not as tough as I am, but I am actually really, bloody tough.
‘It doesn’t mean I am not sensitive or I don’t get hurt, but you have to do something pretty serious to rattle me.’
At the time, Ms Gallagher was the Chief Minister of the ACT, having climbed her way through the political ranks in a swift but methodical way.
Born and raised in Canberra to parents who emigrated from England, Ms Gallagher followed her mother’s footsteps by becoming entrenched in her community.
But it wasn’t until the tragic death of her fiancé – when she was just 27 and 13 weeks pregnant – that she was thrust into politics, almost by accident.
She couldn’t bear returning to her old job, nor the house she’d shared with her fiancé, Brett Seaman.
Ms Gallagher is a political ally of the PM and the pair enjoy a close working relationship
Mr Seaman was killed on his bicycle when he was hit by an 87-year-old motorist, as the couple holidayed on the NSW south coast.
‘I was completely destroyed,’ she told the Australian Financial Review. ‘It was so unexpected. So traumatic and so the opposite of what I expected my life to be. It absolutely smashed me. For a long time.’
His employer, the Community and Public Sector Union, offered her a job to help her get back on her feet, and eventually she was approached by Labor operatives seeking women to stand for the 2001 ACT legislative assembly.
Her late father, Charlie Gallagher, had been a member of the Labor party, and that inspired her to run. She never thought she was in with a shot. Of the 17 women put forward, eight were elected – including Ms Gallagher.
In 2006, she was appointed deputy chief minister under Jon Stanhope and upon his resignation in 2011, landed in the top job herself. By 2014 she, too, had resigned with aspirations of a tilt in federal politics.
Ms Gallagher lost both of her parents to cancer. Her father, Charlie, died when in 1995, she was 25, of lung cancer.
Ten years later, her mother died of peritoneal cancer.
It wasn’t until the tragic death of her fiancé – when she was just 27 and 13 weeks pregnant – that she was thrust into politics, almost by accident
Ms Gallagher was one of the politicians caught up in the parliamentary eligibility crisis between 2017 and 2018. The High Court of Australia determined she was not eligible for election in 2016 because she was still technically a British citizen.
Prior to the election, Ms Gallagher had completed her form to renounce citizenship, but the UK Home Office had not processed the application until August, deeming her ineligible.
She returned to parliament in 2019, and was appointed into the Albanese ministry following the 2022 election.
Gallagher’s response to ‘Mean Girls’ claim
Colleagues say she is a woman of ‘utmost integrity’, but back in 2022, she was dogged by allegations she, along with Penny Wong and Kristina Keneally, were ‘Mean Girls’ who ‘bullied’ their colleague, Kimberly Kitching.
All three senators vehemently denied the allegations.
Ms Kitching tragically died aged 52 from a heart attack on March 10.
Ms Gallagher was particularly shocked by the allegations, claiming she’d never been described as a ‘mean girl’ in the past and that it was ‘an unfortunate term which diminishes women’.
‘I don’t think I did anything that would deserve that name, but I don’t think any person deserves that name on any side of the political chamber,’ she said.
In parliament this week, Ms Gallagher appeared to crack once under the pressure of the line of questioning, holding back tears as she pleaded with senators to consider the implications of the line of questioning.
But she said she was ‘prepared to withstand this line of questioning and the coverage from the media’.
‘I’ve answered probably more questions than many of the people who knew much more than me,’ she said.
‘When I give a commitment to someone about confidentiality, I keep it.’
Ms Gallagher has maintained all week that she would not provide further answers as to her conversations with Ms Higgins and Mr Sharaz out of respect for their privacy.
She did reveal key details, however, including:
Here, read how Senator Gallagher was questioned each day of this sitting week
Katy Gallagher’s response to ‘misleading Parliament’ claim
During Senate Estimates in June 2021, Ms Gallagher was quizzed by then-Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, who said: ‘I was told by one of your senators two weeks before about what you were intending to do with the story in my office. Two weeks before.’
In response, Ms Gallagher said: ‘No one had any knowledge. How dare you.’ She has maintained those comments do not constitute misleading parliament, even though she now admits she did have prior knowledge of the allegations.
‘I was not involved in any way with the story that went to air on the night, or reported online that morning. I was in no way involved with the timing in which this story was published or aired,’ she said on Tuesday.
‘Any allegations or assertion that I did is wrong and I reject it in the strongest possible terms.’
Katy Gallagher refused to reveal whether she was provided a full transcript of Ms Higgins’ interview with The Project prior to its release after being asked point-blank in the Senate.
The finance minister argued doing so would breach the confidence of a vulnerable young woman who confided in her about claims she’d been sexually assaulted in Parliament House.
But Ms Gallagher did confirm during Question Time on Tuesday that it was Ms Higgins’ boyfriend David Sharaz who first alerted her to the allegations – asking her to ‘keep the information confidential’.
Ms Gallagher was hit with four questions about the matter in a fiery session, hours after she formally denied misleading parliament in a statement delivered in the Senate.
Ms Gallagher was asked about the apparent contradiction between her telling a Senate estimates hearing in 2021 that she had no prior knowledge of the accusations, to her now acknowledging she was aware of them before they became public.
‘I came into… the information through the partner of the young woman who was going to raise those allegations,’ Ms Gallagher said on Tuesday. ‘It was asked of me to keep that information confidential, and I did.’
Ms Gallagher said she did not want to breach Ms Higgins’ confidence by discussing her knowledge of the matter, adding: ‘If you confide in anybody, seek help from anybody… that information can be placed on the public record.
‘The issues the Opposition are having is that someone might have actually acted with some decency or integrity in here.’
Mr Sharaz boasted of informing Ms Gallagher of the circumstances in leaked texts to his now-fiancée on February 11, 2021.
Ms Gallagher cannot remember exact dates she had conversations with Mr Sharaz or Ms Higgins, but acknowledged it was in the week prior to the allegations being made public.
Katy Gallagher forgot she received an invitation to David Sharaz’s wedding because at that time in her career she was inundated with invitations to random events.
The Finance Minister also criticised leaked text messages in which Mr Sharaz described her as a ‘friend’ to then-girlfriend, now-fiancée Brittany Higgins.
‘Can I start by saying I’m not responsible for how people describe their relationship with me,’ the under fire cabinet minister told the Senate during Question Time on Wednesday.
Daily Mail Australia revealed last month Ms Gallagher was invited to Mr Sharaz’ wedding to ex-wife Alexandra Craig in 2018. She addressed the invitation for the first time in public today, revealing she ‘didn’t recall that until [she] heard it reported’.
David Sharaz is pictured with his ex-wife Alexandra Craig. They got married in 2018 and invited Katy Gallagher to the wedding
‘I had to ask the people I worked with at the time, I think I was Chief Minister. I got a lot of invitations to a lot of things, some I was able to go to and others I couldn’t.
‘That one I didn’t go to. It was declined.’
She told the Senate on Wednesday her relationship with Mr Sharaz was not out of the ordinary – and likely equal to relationships he had with many other politicians.
‘I had a professional relationship with Mr Sharaz, as did many in this place as he worked here for a period of time,’ she said.
‘It is a professional relationship with a journalist I knew in the ACT and I came across him again when I moved up to the Senate. I expect that relationship exists for a number of Senators.’
Embattled Finance Minister Katy Gallagher (pictured) distanced herself from her supposed ‘friend’ David Sharaz during Question Time on Wednesday
Katy Gallagher finally appeared to crack under the onslaught of Liberal criticism and questions.
Her voice finally quivered toward the end of the session in response to a question raised by Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie.
‘I am very disappointed this week,’ she said, her bottom lip trembling.
Ms Gallagher battled to maintain her composure, going on to say: ‘The work we’ve done on [the Kate Jenkins report] Respect@Work, asking women to come forward when something happens to them, and then treating women the way they are being treated right now.’
Ms Gallagher said she was under the impression the bombardment of questions – particularly Thursday – stemmed from Senator Linda Reynolds.
Brittany Higgins alleged she was sexually assaulted inside Ms Reynolds’ office by Bruce Lehrmann after a night out in 2019 while they were both staffers.
He has always strenuously denied the allegations, and they were never proven in court after a mistrial.
Ms Higgins also accused Ms Reynolds of mishandling her complaints, and Ms Reynolds famously called her junior staffer a ‘lying cow’, resulting in a payout.
Ms Gallagher said: ‘I’m sorry Senator Reynolds is clearly upset about what happened to her.
‘I am sorry about that, and I told her that. But I am also very sorry for Brittany Higgins, I’m sorry documents about her personal life have been leaked, I’m sorry a confidential draft claim for compensation found its way onto the front pages of a national newspaper.
‘The insinuation… today is that we caused harm to Senator Reynolds, that’s what she feels.
‘When that was brought to our attention, we took that on.’
Katy Gallagher’s voice finally quivered toward the end of Thursday’s Senate session in response to a question raised by Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie. ‘I am very disappointed this week,’ she said as her bottom lip trembled
Ms Gallagher told the Senate she believes Brittany Higgins’ allegation of rape.
‘I believe Ms Higgins,’ she said during a fourth day of questioning over her handling of the allegation.
Again, she claimed she did ‘nothing’ with the information Ms Higgins and Mr Sharaz told her before going public.
‘I did nothing with the information because I was asked to keep the information confidential. I did that,’ she said.
‘I know it’s hard for you to understand that someone given those two given the nature of the information given to me would actually do that, but that is what I did. I don’t intend to go into any further detail.’
The text messages that linked Senator Gallagher to David Sharaz
Four days before Ms Higgins appeared on The Project in February 2021, Mr Sharaz messaged Ms Higgins: ‘Katy [Gallagher] is going to come to me with some questions you need to prepare for … She’s really invested now ha ha.’
He later added: ‘She’s an old friend. We opened a chair together! So you can trust her.’
Ms Higgins replied: ‘Going forward pass my details onto Katy. I’m happy to talk to her.’
Mr Sharaz said: ‘No, no. That’s really okay … I don’t mind talking to Katy. But we can both speak to her if that’s easier.’
Ms Higgins said: ‘Please just send people my way going forward.’
Later the same day, Mr Sharaz told Ms Higgins: ‘Katy Gallagher messaged me. She’s angry and wants to help. She’s got the context. Says they knew something was wrong because they fired Bruce and not you. They avoided a scandal.’
Ms Higgins asked: ‘Can I see her message?’
Mr Sharaz replied: ‘Yep! I gave her [The Project] interview for context. I hope that’s okay? She’s not doing anything with it. But I’m also happy to step out and let her talk to you if you want.
‘Basically, I wanted her to get all the context because it’s so complicated.’
Ms Higgins said: ‘That’s fine. It’ll all be public pretty soon anyway haha.’
Four days before Ms Higgins appeared on The Project, Mr Sharaz messaged Ms Higgins about Senator Gallagher (pictured, mock-up of the text)
Later the same day, Mr Sharaz told Ms Higgins: ‘Katy Gallagher messaged me. She’s angry and wants to help. She’s got the context’ (pictured, mock up of the texts)
Conversation about Senator Gallagher continued on March 18, 2021 – a month after Ms Higgins’ allegations were broadcast – with the couple growing concerned about former prime minister Scott Morrison’s backgrounding.
‘You may as well feed everything you have to Katy,’ Ms Higgins told Mr Sharaz on March 18.
‘The sooner we can nip it in the bud the better. Especially if we can call them out by name,’ Ms Higgins wrote, in the hope the Senator may be able to raise the subject in the Upper House.
Mr Sharaz replied: ‘I’ve texted Katy and SHY (Green Senator Sarah Hanson Young).
The couple also spoke about rallying journalists and media figures to their cause after Mr Morrison’s chief of staff John Kunkel, who they blamed for backgrounding people against them, made contact.
‘Should we get Katy Gallagher’s advice re kunkel? She’s pretty savage politically haha,’ Mr Sharaz wrote to Ms Higgins on May 5, 2021.
He then suggests giving the media a ‘drop’ of information before Ms Higgins said: ‘He’ll just deny he confirmed anything. These meetings are more in their interest than ours. I’ll just brief it out to Tanya and get her advice.’
Mr Sharaz replied: ‘Plibersek? That’s a good idea.’