A former Liberal staffer who alleges she was raped by a colleague at Parliament House two years ago will pursue criminal charges in the case.
Brittany Higgins, who worked briefly for then-Defence Minister Linda Reynolds in 2019, alleges she was raped by a male colleague on the Senator’s office couch three weeks before the federal election.
She later transferred to the office of Employment Minister Michaelia Cash.
Ms Higgins told Channel 10’s The Project on Monday night she decided not to pursue a complaint with the police at the time of the alleged attack as she felt pressure that it would affect her job.
“We were already coming up against so many blocks and I realised my job was on the line. I didn’t feel like I had a choice,” she said.
“There is a strange culture of silence in the parties … The idea of speaking out on these sorts of issues, especially around an [election] campaign, is just like letting the team down, you are not a team player.”
Ms Higgins said she was given the option of working in Western Australia – Senator Reynolds’ home state – during the election campaign or going home to the Gold Coast.
But she claimed it was made clear that if she returned home, her job would not be there after the election.
It is understood that Ms Higgins now plans to proceed with the police investigation in the coming weeks, as well as starting formal complaint proceedings with the Department of Finance, which handles work-related complaints for ministerial staffers.
Ms Higgins also told The Project that Parliament House’s regulations effectively stonewalled her from pursuing charges against the Liberal Party “rising star” she alleges raped her.
While she said she can piece together much of the night of the alleged assault, the CCTV cameras that line the halls of Parliament House would have recorded footage that Ms Higgins says would give her closure, and help her prove her case.
But she hasn’t been allowed to see that footage, despite making direct requests to PM Scott Morrison’s own staffer Fiona Brown.
“I knew that Fiona had seen it. I knew that one of my other colleagues had seen it from Defence,” Ms Higgins told The Project, adding the footage would have tracked her movements from the front of the building all the way to the suite.
“It felt like a betrayal for them to withhold this one really small thing they needed for myself to process to move on or just to understand what had happened to me.”
At the end of The Project, host Lisa Wilkinson revealed Parliament House had finally agreed to hand over the footage.
The investigation has not been closed, ACT Police said, but stalled when Ms Higgins chose not to make a formal complaint.
‘Women should be safe’
Senator Reynolds was peppered with questions about the incident in the Senate’s Question Time on Monday, saying she was “extremely concerned” about the incident.
“Women should be safe and they should feel safe in the workplace at all times,” the Defence Minister said.
“My only priority throughout this matter was the welfare of my then staff member, and ensuring that she received the support that she needed.”
Senator Reynolds has been criticised for conducting a formal meeting with Ms Higgins inside the room where the rape allegedly took place.
Ms Higgins told news.com.au that was “the weirdest part”, and that she could not stop thinking, “Oh my God, it was the couch”.
On Monday, Senator Reynolds claimed that at the time of the meeting, she was not aware that a sexual assault allegation had been made.
However, that claim was not made in a government response to the news.com.au report, which admitted “the meeting should have been conducted elsewhere”.
Other government members shared near-identical responses when asked about the incident on Monday, with Health Minister Greg Hunt and Prime Minister Scott Morrison both calling it “deeply distressing”.
“My government takes all matters of workplace safety very, very seriously. Everyone should feel safe in their workplace, wherever that is,” said Mr Morrison, when asked in the House of Representatives’ Question Time.
Another Liberal MP Katie Allen called the allegations “deeply, profoundly troubling” and praised Ms Higgins as a “profoundly brave woman”.
Labor senator Kristina Keneally called for more transparency over the internal Parliament investigation, including “questions about whether or not this young woman was pressured to choose between her job and reporting the matter to police”.
The government denies this occurred, with Senator Reynolds saying she expressly gave information to Ms Higgins about police referral.
“There are security issues around the Defence Minister’s office. There are issues as to whether or not this has been properly referred and investigated. Not just by officials in this building, but also by the police,” Senator Keneally said on Monday.
Another Labor frontbencher Mark Butler said “all workplaces need to do better”.
“It’s the responsibility of everyone in this building, particularly those of us in positions of leadership, to ensure that this workplace, Parliament House, like every workplace across the country, is a safe workplace,” he said.