Explosive text messages have cast serious doubt over the Prime Minister’s account of when he first learned of the alleged rape of a former Liberal staffer at Parliament House.
Scott Morrison has repeatedly said his office knew nothing of Brittany Higgins’ claims she was raped by a colleague on a sofa in a minister’s office until a week ago.
He maintains he had no personal knowledge of the allegations of the 2019 offence until Monday.
On Friday, Mr Morrison stood by his claim he knew nothing, despite a text exchange suggesting staff in his office were told within a fortnight of the alleged incident.
“If there was anything different here, I would like to know,” he said.
The PM denied misleading the public, and said his version of events was based on advice from his office.
“I have asked the secretary of my department to actually test that advice,” he said.
The messages – an apparent exchange between Ms Higgins and a fellow Liberal staffer from within a fortnight of the 2019 incident – emerged on Friday.
In the message, the Liberal staffer said they had spoken directly with a member of Mr Morrison’s staff.
“Spoke to the PMO. He was mortified to hear about it and how things have been handled,” he said.
“He’s going to discuss with COS – no one else. I flagged the need for councillor (sic) and desire to be closer to home during election.”
PMO refers to Mr Morrison’s office and COS is shorthand for chief of staff.
Ms Higgins has said at least three of Mr Morrison’s staff had knew of the alleged incident.
One of those was chief of staff to then-defence industry minister Linda Reynolds at the time Ms Higgins was allegedly raped.
On Friday, Mr Morrison said the texts would be “within the scope” of a review of the response to Ms Higgins’ allegations by Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary Philip Gaetjens.
“I have sought to be as open and honest as I can about this matter. I have told you everything I know,” he said.
Mr Gaetjens, who was Mr Morrison’s chief of staff while he was treasurer, spoke with the PM on Friday morning following publication of the texts.
But Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the messages contradicted Mr Morrison’s claim that his office knew nothing of Ms Higgins’ claims until it was contacted by a journalist last Friday.
“It’s just incomprehensible that the Prime Minister’s office, given a reported sexual assault had occurred 50 metres from his office, wouldn’t have then had a discussion about handling the issue,” he told the ABC on Friday.
“It just doesn’t stack up. It’s no wonder that people, from Peta Credlin to Malcolm Turnbull, have questioned the accounts.”
Mr Turnbull has called it “inconceivable” that Mr Morrison knew nothing of the alleged incident, saying it would have been “absolutely baffling” — comments echoed by another former PM, Kevin Rudd.
“It doesn’t ring true that when you have a case of such gravity involving this young women who is alleging rape in a ministerial office, that this wouldn’t have been immediately been informed or provided as a report to the Prime Minister’s chief of staff,” Mr Rudd told the ABC on Friday.
Ms Credlin, a former chief of staff to then PM Tony Abbott, told Sydney radio 2GB this week that Mr Morrison’s timeline “doesn’t stack up”.
“There is no way, if I was aware of an allegation like that, that the prime minister wouldn’t have known,” she said.
“We’ve got to say that word ‘rape’, because it’s incredibly important we understand how severe this all is.”
On Friday, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said Mr Morrison’s public statements were based on advice from his staff.
“If he has been misled then that is a different level for him to deal with,” Mr Dutton told Nine.
“But on the advice he has received during the week, and as he said in parliament, that’s the facts as he knows them.”
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg also denied the text messages blew Mr Morrison’s timeline out of the water.
“I’m not aware of any difference to the statement the Prime Minister made earlier this week about the timeline for his office knowing and for him knowing,” he told the ABC.
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