The partner of Brittany Higgins has slammed the conduct of the Prime Minister’s Office, accusing Scott Morrison’s staff of attempting to smear him.
David Sharaz confirmed on Twitter that the prime minister’s office had been backgrounding journalists, a practice used in politics to anonymously spread information about an opponent.
Mr Sharaz, who worked as a journalist in the Canberra press gallery but is now living in Brisbane, tweeted: “I know for a FACT PMO were backgrounding. I don’t care about me. But Britt cares about me, and it hurt her. Victim blaming at its worst. Go after her strongest support person.”
I know for a FACT PMO were backgrounding. I don’t care about me. But Britt cares about me, and it hurt her. Victim blaming at its worst. Go after her strongest support person. https://t.co/I72OWcNeIT
— David Sharaz (@SharazDavid) February 24, 2021
It comes as Federal police have warned politicians they must report crimes without delay after Ms Higgins’ explosive rape allegation was kept secret for almost two years.
Ms Higgins alleges she was raped by a fellow Liberal staffer in the office of Defence Minister Linda Reynolds in March 2019. She made an official report to Australian Federal Police on Wednesday afternoon.
The story has dominated the news over the past fortnight, with many questions of accountability and transparency remaining unanswered by the Morrison government.
Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw has written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, MPs, senators and staff about reporting crimes.
Mr Kershaw said the failure to report criminal behaviour or allowing allegations to be aired in the media risked prejudicing police investigations.
“I cannot state strongly enough the importance of timely referrals of allegations of criminal conduct,” Mr Kershaw said.
“By not adhering to this process, there is a real risk that any alternative actions by individuals may lead to obstructing, preventing, perverting or defeating the course of justice or administration of the law.”
Mr Sharaz’s Twitter post drew much encouragement on the social network, with users urging he and Ms Higgins to “Stay strong’’ and “Keep fighting … this despicable behaviour cannot be normalised”.
There was also a Michelle Obama-inspired “When they go low, we go high” and the simpler “We’re with both of you” through to “I salute you and Brittany for having the courage to call out the toxic culture”.
The latest issue of ‘backgrounding’ arose following earlier revelations by Network Ten political editor Peter van Onselen, who exposed the “grubby’’ practice a week earlier and was left unimpressed by the response of Senator Simon Birmingham to an Opposition query on Thursday.
Last week I revealed the PMO was backgrounding against Brittany Higgins partner. Labor asked about it in the Senate. Simon Birmingham reported back the PM isn’t aware of anyone doing that. I’ve asked the PMO if the PM bothered to look into it or is just happily unaware 🤷♂️
— Peter van Onselen (@vanOnselenP) February 24, 2021
“Last week I revealed the PMO was backgrounding against Brittany Higgins’ partner,” van Onselen tweeted.
“Labor asked about it in the Senate. Simon Birmingham reported back the PM isn’t aware of anyone doing that. I’ve asked the PMO if the PM bothered to look into it or is just happily unaware?”
Mr Sharaz has been vocal throughout his partner’s fight, initially praising the contributions of The Project’s Lisa Wilkinson and news.com.au’s Samantha Maiden for helping Ms Higgins share her story.
“Thanks to those journalists who wouldn’t put up with the Prime Minister’s Office publicly supporting her while privately backgrounding to hurt her loved ones.”
Let’s take a moment to praise the strong women backing #BrittanyHiggins. @Lisa_Wilkinson & @samanthamaiden. Thanks to those journalists who wouldn’t put up with the Prime Minister’s Office publicly supporting her while privately backgrounding to hurt her loved ones. #auspol https://t.co/ZevqyhTTi1
— David Sharaz (@SharazDavid) February 21, 2021
Having already described the behaviour from the PMO as “gross” on February 18, Ms Higgins said she was “determined to drive significant reform in the way the Australian Parliament handles issues of this nature and treats ministerial and parliamentary staff more generally”.
“I knew personally that when I decided to put my name and face to this there would be repercussions for me,” Ms Higgins told The Guardian.
“But I think it’s unfair if they are starting to try and take this out on loved ones.
“I think it speaks to the systematic problems of this place.
“It silences people and I think it’s gross.”
But in a sign that federal Parliament faces a reckoning on its “toxic” internal culture and the treatment of women in the halls of power, the ABC reports that the intense publicity about the case has encouraged a number of women to come forward to report sexual assault to police in the nation’s capital.
It reported that some of the fresh claims relate to alleged incidents at Parliament House, while others reportedly occurred within the public service.