Peter Dutton defends handling of information around Brittany Higgins rape allegation

Peter Dutton defends handling of information around Brittany Higgins rape allegation
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Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has defended his decision not to tell the Prime Minister about an alleged sexual assault in Parliament, saying it was a sensitive, operational matter.

Brittany Higgins alleged she was raped by a male colleague inside a minister’s office two years ago.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) briefed Mr Dutton days before the allegations became public.

He said he wasn’t provided with “the ‘she said, he said’ details of the allegations”, instead only “high level” information which was passed on to the Prime Minister’s office after media enquiries arrived the following day.

“I made a judgment that I had received a briefing from the Australian Police Commissioner about a sensitive matter,” he said.

He said Ms Higgins re-engaged with the AFP on February 5, prompting the AFP to pass on information on February 11.

Mr Morrison said he only heard about the detail of the allegation when it become public earlier this month.

Morrison backs Dutton

Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended Mr Dutton applying his own discretion.

“The Minister for Home Affairs is regularly briefed on sensitive investigations across a whole range of issues, that is the process that he is engaged in,” he said.

“That can happen on a weekly basis and it’s his operational practice which I know is supported by officials to receive those briefings, then those are matters for him.”

Scott Morrison alongside MPs Gladys Liu, Marise Payne, Michelle Landry and Katie Allen at an International Women’s Day breakfast.(ABC News: David Sciasci)

Mr Morrison has expressed frustration at his office for not passing on details of the allegation before he found out, and he has asked the head of his department to find out exactly when his staff were informed.

He is adamant that his personal knowledge of the incident would not have changed how Ms Higgins was treated.

But he said he recognised there were “legitimate questions” about whether the support for Ms Higgins was adequate.

“Had it been the case that it was brought to my attention at an earlier time, my action would have been the same as those ministers’ action, and that is to say, has the matter been drawn to the attention of the police?” he said.

“The answer to that question is that it had.

“The other question is, is the individual … have they been provided with the support and access to the services to assist them and support them in this circumstance?”

Two reviews are underway in response to Ms Higgins’s allegation; one into the culture within political parties and one from the department into the need for independent complaints handling.

Mr Morrison addressed an International Women’s Day breakfast on Thursday morning.

“The best contemplation is when we reflect on our own responsibilities, and consider what we, each of us, can do to make Australia a better place for women,” he said.

“A place where women can truly grow up in this country and feel respected and valued.”

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