Scott Morrison has maintained a hard line this week that his office were never aware of rape allegations made by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins. But a text message exchange between a staffer in the PM’s office and Higgins released this morning, sensationally undermines that account.
The messages were sent early in April, after Higgins allegedly confided in her friend about the incident saying she’d received “jacks**t support” from the Liberal Party. Seeking to help, the man asked Higgins if she felt comfortable for him to alert the PM’s office to which Higgins replied: “Yeah, that would be potentially helpful if you wouldn’t mind having a conversation.”
On the 3rd of April, the man responds, saying: “Spoke to PMO. He was mortified about it and how things have been handled. He’s going to discuss with COS– no one else. I flagged need for councillor and desire to be closer to home during election.”
April 3rd was just two days after Brittany Higgins was called to a meeting with then Defence Industry Minister, Senator Linda Reynolds to discuss the situation. The meeting was conducted in the same room Higgins was allegedly raped in.
It is now widely understood that at least three individuals in the Prime Minister’s office were aware of the incident at the time of it happening. This includes Morrison’s chief of staff John Kunkel, who was involved in terminating the staffer accused of a Parliament House security breach and Higgins’ assault as well as Senator Reynolds’ former chief of staff, Fiona Brown, who was involved in the handling of the incident and shortly after transferred to Morrison’s office.
Morrison told parliament on Tuesday that his office was only made aware of the alleged rape of Higgins on February 12 2021 and he publicly rebuked Senator Reynolds for not informing him. But, with evidence mounting, it is difficult to comprehend how the Prime Minister could have been left in the dark about these allegations.
As former PM Malcolm Turnbull framed it yesterday, it’s “incredible” and “very, very, very hard to believe” that senior advisers in the Prime Minister’s office would not have been aware of the details of the incident, nor relayed that information to the Prime Minister.
With several incidents of sexual misconduct reported by women in parliament in recent months, the government now faces growing calls to implement independent reporting mechanisms and comprehensive reviews of such incidents through a new body– a move supported by Federal Labor.
Morrison instead announced two reviews in response to these allegations alone; one to be conducted by a Liberal MP and one by his department– a move criticised by crossbench MPs Zali Steggall, Rebekha Sharkie and Helen Haines who back Labor’s proposal for an independent review to be established.
“Quite clearly we need an arm’s length independent body that is able to investigate and provide support to anyone in this building who has an issue with their safety, that needs to be independent,” Labor leader Anthony Albanese said this week.
Perhaps, however, the government’s reluctance to implement something like this is telling. With so many people involved, and the story unravelling more each day, it’s only a matter of time until we know for certain.