Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has added his name to the growing list of senior Coalition members who knew of Brittany Higgins’ rape allegations, but supposedly did not inform the Prime Minister’s office.
Mr Dutton has admitted he was told of the alleged incident involving Ms Higgins on February 11.
That’s a whole day before Scott Morrison said his office first heard of the claims, via a media request on February 12, and a full four days before the first report on the rape claims was published.
The PM has continually maintained he found out about Ms Higgins’ distressing claims of rape only when the story was published – a claim described as “implausible” by Anthony Albanese, and “absolutely baffling” by former PM Malcolm Turnbull.
The Guardian reported on Wednesday that Australian Federal Police policies compel officers to alert the Home Affairs Minister – currently Mr Dutton – of any “politically sensitive matter” they become aware of, at “the earliest opportunity”.
Brittany Higgins. Photo: supplied
Ms Higgins’ allegations of sexual assault inside the Parliament House office of Defence Minister Linda Reynolds in 2019, would likely have met that threshold. Ms Higgins spoke to police at that time, and chose to not make a formal report, but was expected to make a formal report on Wednesday.
In the parliament’s Question Time on Tuesday, when asked by Labor if that had occurred, Mr Dutton replied in the affirmative.
“When did the federal police inform the Minister or his office of a reported sexual assault at Parliament House in March 2019?” shadow defence minister Brendan O’Connor said.
Mr Dutton responded he “was advised on 11 February and I received updates last week and this week”.
In the Senate’s Question Time, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash – for whom Ms Higgins worked until recently – said Mr Dutton had received a briefing directly from AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw.
“This was the first time the Minister was advised of Ms Higgins’ allegations,” she said.
It is unclear why the AFP briefed Mr Dutton, and why that briefing occurred specifically in just two weeks ago, considering police knew of Ms Higgins’ allegations in April 2019.
It is also unclear exactly what information Commissioner Kershaw passed to Mr Dutton on February 11. The New Daily has contacted the AFP for comment.
Mr Dutton’s name is added to a growing list of senior government members and employees who knew of Ms Higgins’ allegations. That list includes, at least:
- Defence Minister Reynolds; Ms Higgins’ boss at the time of the alleged incident;
- Employment Minister Cash; Ms Higgins’ boss until recently;
- Senate President Scott Ryan, and House Speaker Tony Smith; the Parliament’s presiding officers. They were alerted to a security breach in Senator Reynolds’ office and later dealt with AFP requests for security footage;
- Fiona Brown; Senator Reynolds’ chief of staff in 2019, now working in Mr Morrison’s office;
- and, according to Ms Higgins but disputed by the government, several other senior members of the PM’s office
Several ministers have cited privacy concerns when asked why they did not inform Mr Morrison of their knowledge of the incident.
Greens senator Larissa Waters tweeted “Why didn’t Dutton tell the PM, if either are telling the truth”.
Why didn’t Dutton tell the PM, if either are telling the truth
— Larissa Waters (@larissawaters) February 24, 2021
Mr Morrison was last week quizzed about whether he had a “don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy” in his office, and why he was not informed of the incident or impending story until after it was published.
“That is a very valid question and I can assure you that there is no such policy and I’m not happy about the fact that it was not brought to my attention, and I can assure you people know that,” he said last Tuesday.
This week, Mr Morrison said he had since “instructed my staff I would expect to be advised of such matters” in future.
It comes after Senator Reynolds abruptly cancelled her National Press Club speech, scheduled for Wednesday, after she was admitted to hospital on advice of her cardiologist.
The defence minister will take an indeterminate medical leave of absence, linked to a pre-existing health condition.
-more to come