Alleged rape victim Brittany Higgins to make formal statement, Linda Reynolds to face fresh questions

Alleged rape victim Brittany Higgins to make formal statement, Linda Reynolds to face fresh questions
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Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins will make a formal complaint today, allowing police to pursue an active investigation into her alleged rape inside a ministerial office at Parliament House.

At the same time her former boss, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, will face renewed scrutiny over the way she has handled the young staffer’s complaint when she delivers a speech at the National Press Club.

She will face half an hour of live televised questioning from reporters, the first time she will be grilled by reporters since the allegation surfaced.

It is more than a week since Brittany Higgins first alleged she was sexually assaulted by another Liberal staffer in Senator Reynolds’ office on Capital Hill in 2019.

The room was just metres from the Prime Minister’s own office in the ministerial wing of Parliament House, and the story sent shockwaves through the building.

Ms Higgins said she did not proceed after an initial meeting with police, because she did not want to lose her job and felt unsupported.

Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds has made emotional statements to the Parliament about the actions she took.(AAP: Mike Tsikas)

Senator Reynolds has already apologised for holding an initial meeting with Ms Higgins in the same room where the alleged rape occurred, and the minister has made emotional statements to the Parliament about the actions she took in response.

“At all times to me, Brittany’s welfare and her right to privacy were paramount,” Senator Reynolds said.

She said her office moved quickly to ensure “that Brittany was given full access to the police”.

“I am deeply sorry that Brittany felt unsupported at the time of the incident and in the months that followed, and in fact the years that followed.”

Police complaint to drive change

But Ms Higgins said she was “failed repeatedly”.

In a statement she outlined her reasons for re-activating the police investigation, saying she wanted the alleged perpetrator to face the “full force of the law” and to ensure her ordeal is not repeated.

“I am determined to drive significant reform in the way the Australian Parliament handles issues of this nature and treats ministerial and parliamentary staff more generally,” Ms Higgins said.

“I believe that getting to the bottom of what happened to me and how the system failed me is critical to creating a new framework for political staff that ensures genuine cultural change and restores the trust of staff.”

Since Ms Higgins first raised her complaint, The Australian has reported two other women have made allegations of sexual assault against the same man.

A fourth woman told the ABC she had made a formal police report about a 2017 incident when the same man stroked her thigh at a Canberra bar.

The Prime Minister has announced a series of internal and independent reviews to address the culture within Federal Parliament and to look at the way his own office handled the matter.

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The Prime Minister announces two new processes to better support women in politics.

The internal report into his staff will be conducted by his former chief of staff, who now heads the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Phil Gaetjens.

Scott Morrison has not committed to release that publicly.

Mr Morrison said he was only made aware of the claim of a sexual assault last Monday, just hours ahead of the story being published, despite Senator Reynolds and at least one member of his own staff being aware for almost two years.

Senator Reynolds has defended not telling the Prime Minister about Ms Higgins’s allegation.

“I did not advise the Prime Minister because it was not my place to do so,” Senator Reynolds said in Parliament on Tuesday.

The minister said she did have a discussion with the Special Minister of State, Alex Hawke.

“To the best of my recollection, it was not about this matter. It was about my second staff member.”

The alleged perpetrator of the assault had his employment terminated but the minister said that was because of the “security breach”.

Mr Hawke said he remembers the call.

“My recollection matches Senator Reynolds’s comments in the Senate, that there was one call made regarding accessing general advice about termination processes in 2019,” he said.

“The details and nature of the matter was not discussed.”

Reynolds retracts statement of police meeting

Senator Reynolds was forced to correct the record after telling parliament on Tuesday that she had an additional meeting with Australian Federal Police on April 1, 2019.

That’s the same day she first spoke to Ms Higgins in her parliamentary office about the alleged assault.

But the minister then sent a letter to the President of the Senate to correct that.

“I did not meet with the AFP on April 1, 2019,” the letter said.

Senator Reynolds said she arranged for Ms Higgins to speak to police that day.

She went on to reaffirm her previous statements that she was present for talks with federal police three days later, alone and then with her chief of staff.

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