“To have that matter taken up by the police and for it to be investigated by the police, I welcome, very much welcome, the fact that that is now occurring. That is, that has always been what we sought to encourage and I’m glad that that investigation is now once again underway,” he said.
“The ministers who had knowledge of this matter and those who are in a senior position and the staff that had knowledge of those matters in those offices, at all times, sought to have this matter fully investigated by the police.”
“I absolutely agree that there is significant work that still remains to be done in the Parliament House work culture. That is absolutely the case. This has been a challenging issue for many, many years and I think we would be naive to think that it’s not a challenge that the other workplaces face all around the country, but I agree the Parliament should be setting the standard.”
Ms Higgins had previously said she spoke to police four days after the alleged rape in March 2019 but did not make a formal statement as she felt she had to make a choice between pursuing the investigation or pursuing her career in politics.
Special Minister of State Simon Birmingham has been charged with putting together a bipartisan review of Parliament House’s workplace culture, one of four probes underway. Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, her predecessor Elizabeth Broderick and former Democrats senator Natasha Stott-Despoja are among the names that have been suggested to lead the review.
Liberal MP Celia Hammond has asked to examine how to improve Liberal Party culture, senior public servant Stephanie Foster is examining how to build a new structure to handle complaints and Mr Morrison’s department chief Phil Gaetjens has been asked to examine the details of what and when staff in the Prime Minister’s office knew of the incident.
Mr Morrison said Mr Gaetjens probe had not concluded and he would not pre-empt those findings. A text message was disclosed on Friday that suggested Ms Higgins had alerted a staff member in the Prime Minister’s office on April 3, 2019, days after the alleged rape. The Prime Minister has said he only learned of the alleged incident when it was made public.
The Prime Minister’s chief of staff, John Kunkel and another adviser, principal private secretary Yaron Finkelstein, knew of an incident involving Ms Higgins in the days after, but no files or messages have emerged to show they knew it was an alleged rape.
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and her then chief of staff Fiona Brown were made aware by Ms Higgins of the alleged rape and both encouraged her to go to the police. Ms Brown now works in the Prime Minister’s office. Mr Morrison has admonished Senator Reynolds for not disclosing the incident to him.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said it had been a “deeply distressing week and for Brittany Higgins she has just shown extraordinary bravery in coming forward” and that claims of a second incident were “quite shocking”.
“Quite frankly, it is beyond belief that the reported sexual assault [of Ms Higgins allegedly] happened just metres from the Prime Minister’s office,” he said.
“Ms Higgins deserves answers. She has been extraordinarily brave in the way that she has acted this week.”
“There needs to be an independent review…the idea that you have two reviews, one conducted by a member of the caucus, and one conducted by the head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, who used to be his chief of staff, that’s not an independent review.”
The Australian Federal Police have been contacted for comment.
James Massola is political correspondent for the Sun-Herald and
Sunday Age. He was previously south-east Asia correspondent in Jakarta and chief political correspondent. Before that he was political correspondent for the Australian Financial Review.
Fergus Hunter is a crime reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.