Embattled Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has not denied reports that she referred to alleged rape victim and former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins as a “lying cow”.
According to a story in The Australian newspaper, Senator Reynolds made the remarks in front of staff members after Ms Higgins went public about an alleged rape inside the ministerial wing of Parliament House in 2019.
When contacted by the ABC, Senator Reynolds did not dispute the reports.
“A report in The Australian attributed some remarks to me regarding the very serious allegations made by my former staff member, Ms Brittany Higgins,” she said in a statement.
“I have never questioned Ms Higgins account of her alleged sexual assault and have always sought to respect her agency in this matter.
“I did however comment on news reports regarding surrounding circumstances that I felt had been misrepresented.
“I have consistently respected Ms Higgins’s agency and privacy and said this is her story to tell and no one else’s.
“Ms Higgins’s allegations are very serious and that is how they must be treated to ensure her legal rights are protected. I welcome her decision to progress this matter with the Australian Federal Police.”
The Australian reports Senator Reynolds, who is currently on medical leave, made the comment in an open part of her office on the same day Ms Higgins went public with the allegation that she was raped by a male colleague.
The remarks were reportedly made in ear shot of several staff members, including some who are public servants on secondment from the Department of Defence.
Senator Reynolds was admitted into hospital late last month as a “precautionary measure” following advice from her cardiologist.
She has faced sustained pressure over her handling of Ms Higgins’s rape complaint, and this latest allegation is likely to infuriate some of her ambitious backbench colleagues who privately raised questions about her fitness to hold onto her ministerial position.
Former Liberal staffer Ms Higgins has made a formal complaint to the Australian Federal Police about her alleged rape in March 2019.