Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton says he opted not to tell the Prime Minister about an alleged rape at Parliament House so he wouldn’t compromise a potential police investigation.
Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins has made a formal complaint to police that she was raped by a colleague at Parliament House in 2019.
Mr Dutton has confirmed Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw informed him about the alleged assault on February 11, four days before PM Scott Morrison maintains he learned of the accusations.
Ms Higgins spoke to police on February 5, with the AFP then informing Mr Dutton because it was a politically sensitive investigation.
He decided not to tell Mr Morrison because it was an operational matter for police.
“I took a decision that I wasn’t going to disclose that to the Prime Minister,” Mr Dutton said in Canberra on Thursday.
“I think that was the right decision.”
Mr Dutton regularly receives briefings from Mr Kershaw.
“I don’t instruct him how to conduct his investigations, I don’t impede his investigations, I don’t seek to influence his investigations,” he said.
Mr Dutton said he deemed it “inappropriate” to inform Mr Morrison’s office of the rape allegations. He decided to do so on February 12, only after media inquiries.
“When the media inquiries came in, we provided information, not to his office about the detail … more in terms of process, as the commissioner advised me at the time,” he said.
“There are other matters, unrelated to this, obviously, that I was briefed on during that discussion with the commissioner on the 11th.
“And I wasn’t provided with the ‘she said/he said’ details of the allegation. It was at a higher level.”
Ms Higgins revealed the sexual assault allegation last week and on Wednesday reinstated her complaint.
Three other women have since alleged they were assaulted by the same man.
He was sacked as a ministerial adviser because of a security breach on the night of Ms Higgins’ alleged rape.
Mr Morrison said his office first knew of the allegation on February 12 but staff took almost three days to notify him.
Cabinet ministers Michaelia Cash and Linda Reynolds were also aware before the Prime Minister. Senate President Scott Ryan and House Speaker Tony Smith and several staff in Mr Morrison’s office also knew beforehand.
Senator Reynolds, who employed Ms Higgins at the time of the alleged assault, is on indefinite medical leave after advice from her cardiologist.
She was admitted to Canberra Hospital hours before she was due to appear at the National Press Club on Wednesday.
Mr Morrison and Mr Dutton are standing by Senator Reynolds.
She has been under intense pressure about her handling of the issue and has been forced to correct the record about how many times she met with police in April 2019.
Ms Higgins is hopeful the “terrible situation” will lead to fundamental reform of the laws around employing staff and cultural change
“I genuinely hope Linda Reynolds is OK and wish her all the best with her recovery,” she tweeted on Wednesday.
The issue has dominated the parliamentary sitting fortnight with a slew of inquiries initiated to look at complaints processes and culture.
Mr Morrison has rejected suggestions there is a “don’t ask, don’t tell” culture within the government.
“I have been open about what is a very sensitive matter, a truly very sensitive and serious matter,” he said.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese is expected to continue pressuring the government about the Mr Morrison’s knowledge of the incident on Thursday.