The Australian Federal Police Commissioner has written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, warning about delays in politicians reporting criminal conduct.
The letter from Reece Kershaw follows sexual assault allegations made by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins.
“I cannot state strongly enough the importance of timely referrals of allegations of criminal conduct,” Commissioner Kershaw said in the letter, first published by News Corp.
“Failure to report alleged criminal behaviour in this manner, or choosing to communicate or disseminate allegations via other means, such as through the media or third parties, risks prejudicing any subsequent police investigation.
“Any delay in reporting criminal conduct can result in the loss of key evidence, continuation of the offending and/or reoffending by the alleged perpetrator.”
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Scott Morrison’s office said the Prime Minister requested the letter to provide members and senators with clear guidance of what to do if they received a complaint.
Mr Morrison then wrote to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Senate President asking for Commissioner Kershaw’s advice to be circulated to all politicians.
“As we all appreciate, these are serious and traumatic events for anyone to deal with,” he said.
“The events of the past fortnight have demonstrated again why it is so important that all members and senators are informed of their responsibilities in these situations, both to provide compassionate support to those who are affected and to ensure that we uphold the rule of law in dealing with these issues.”
Commissioner Kershaw said members, senators and their offices could receive complaints from a variety of sources but that they should be referred to the AFP without delay, “taking into account the rights and privacy of the victim”.
He said that should happen regardless of which jurisdiction in which the alleged conduct occurred.
Ms Higgins made a formal complaint to police on Wednesday, alleging she was raped by a male colleague inside Parliament House in 2019.
A number of federal government ministers were aware of the allegations before they were made public last week, prompting questions about how they responded.
Ms Higgins’s employer at the time of the alleged rape, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, has apologised for the way Ms Higgins was treated in the aftermath of the alleged incident, but insists she always acted in what she believed was her staffer’s best interests.
Senator Reynolds spent the night in hospital after being admitted on the advice from her cardiologist, in relation to a pre-existing medical condition.