Yet another Coalition politician has admitted they had knowledge of the horrific rape allegations from former staffer Brittany Higgins, raising further questions about Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s claims he knew nothing until last Monday.
It was also revealed that Defence Minister Linda Reynolds escalated the incident to no less than the assistant commissioner of the Australian Federal Police just days after it occurred.
Ms Higgins alleges she was raped by a colleague inside the Parliament House office of her then-boss Ms Reynolds in March 2019.
Mr Morrison maintains he knew nothing of the claims until Monday morning, when News Corp broke the story.
But this week in Parliament has seen explosive revelations that multiple senior members of the Coalition – including staff from Mr Morrison’s office – knew of the allegations for almost two years.
A secret inquiry into the handling of the incident by the Department of Parliamentary Services, which administers Parliament House, has run for months, after security guards complained about the response.
It is understood several members of the federal Parliament have known about Ms Higgins’ claims for months.
President, Speaker told of serious incident in 2019
Senator Reynolds and Senator Michaelia Cash – Ms Higgins’ boss, until her recent resignation from her job – admitted in recent days that they knew of the report.
Now Senate President Scott Ryan has revealed he also received reports of a serious incident in April 2019.
In response to questions from Greens senator Larissa Waters, a visibly distressed Senator Ryan said he had learned the full details of Ms Higgins’ report, including her identity, only last Friday.
I asked the President of the Senate in SenQT if he or his staff told the PM or PMO, or any other Ministers, about the request from the Sexual Assault AFP unit on *18 April 2019* to see CCTV. Surely a red flag at that time. No-one believes PM didn’t know about the rape. #auspol
— Larissa Waters (@larissawaters) February 18, 2021
“It’s occurred on my watch as a senator, and indeed as a custodian at this place,” Senator Ryan said.
“At all times I have acted to the best of my ability to assist any process that will help Brittany Higgins, whose identity I was not aware of until last Friday, find justice without further suffering.”
Senator Waters also asked about the timeline of interactions between the AFP and Parliament, including requests for CCTV vision. Senator Ryan was unable to answer those questions at the time.
Senator Ryan said he had “struggled to find the words” to express his “anger, frustration and anger at what has occurred in this workplace”.
He and fellow Liberal MP Tony Smith, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, are Parliament’s ‘presiding officers’ and are responsible for services inside Parliament House.
In a statement on Wednesday, the pair said they learned of a serious incident that had occurred in Senator Reynolds’ office just days after it occurred.
But they maintain they did not know the full story until much later.
Questions over Morrison timeline
Mr Morrison maintains that his office knew nothing of Ms Higgins’ claims until it received a media inquiry last Friday, and that he personally didn’t know until Monday morning when the story broke online.
Mr Morrison’s timeline asks you to accept that nobody in his well-staffed press office told him about the tsunami of a story between Friday afternoon and Monday morning.
That’s a claim that has boggled the minds of journalists and politicos in Canberra this week.
It’s “implausible”, according to Labor leader Anthony Albanese, that Mr Morrison didn’t know more.
Former PM Malcolm Turnbull called it “inconceivable”, saying it would have been “absolutely baffling”.
It’s now been revealed that – at the very least – Senators Reynolds, Cash and Ryan, and Mr Smith, knew about the incident before the PM says he did.
That’s in addition to members of the secret parliamentary inquiry into DPS, as well as members of Senator Reynolds’ team in 2019 – one of whom now works in the PM’s office.
None, in Mr Morrison’s telling, escalated the matter to him or his office.
Mr Morrison has stuck to this timeline repeatedly, claiming nobody told him earlier and he was “not happy” about it.
But among those who did know, according to the PM, was the very top brass of the AFP.
Dropped casually into a Question Time answer was Mr Morrison’s new information that Senator Reynolds and her chief of staff had met federal police just days after the incident.
— Political Alert (@political_alert) February 18, 2021
“Everyone here tried to do the right thing,” Mr Morrison said in Parliament.
“They took advice and followed the advice and they sought to provide that support and this is what the challenge here is for us.
“Even when that has been done, it hasn’t done the job because now Brittany clearly feels that way and that is not disputed.”
Senator Reynolds is under immense pressure – as shown when she began crying in the Senate and was unable to answer a question.
Mr Morrison has not held a media appearance since Tuesday afternoon, when he claimed Ms Higgins was “confused” in her recount of the story. She responded quickly after with an explosive “victim-blaming” allegation.
This scandal threatens to overwhelm a previously Teflon government,