Defence Minister Linda Reynolds brought to tears when questioned about Brittany Higgins rape allegations
After days of sustained pressure over how she handled the alleged rape of one of her staff, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds wiped away tears and was unable to answer questions in the Senate.
- Defence Minister Linda Reynolds says she is “deeply sorry” for adding to Brittany Higgins’s distress
- Ms Higgins had previously said she felt unsupported by her then-boss Ms Reynolds, and criticised Prime Minister Scott Morrison for “victim-blaming”
- Mr Morrison said on Thursday that Ms Higgins had shown “great bravery in speaking up”
It came as the Prime Minister was forced to deliver another apology to Brittany Higgins, the staffer who alleges she was raped by a colleague in Parliament House after a night out in 2019.
On Monday night, an extended interview with Ms Higgins was broadcast on Channel Ten’s The Project.
She went through the details of the alleged rape in Ms Reynolds’s office and how she was taken into a meeting a few days later in the same room.
Ms Higgins also said she was forced to choose between her job and reporting the incident to police, and that she felt unsupported by her then-boss Ms Reynolds and one of the other senior staff members in the weeks and months after.
On Thursday, Ms Reynolds delivered another apology for how she handled the situation, saying that she thought she was doing her best for Ms Higgins at the time.
“My [senior staffer] and I at all times acted in what we believe were the best interests of Brittany,” she told the Senate.
“Throughout this entire time, my sole desire was to let Brittany herself determine how this matter would be dealt with.
“At the time, this was a difficult, it was a complex and it was a highly sensitive matter.
“For my part, I am deeply sorry that Brittany felt unsupported at the time of the incident and in the months that followed.”I am also deeply sorry that some of my actions and handling of this matter added to Brittany’s distress.”
Later in Question Time, when she was asked an unrelated question, Ms Reynolds again became emotional.
“If I could have the indulgence to answer this on Monday, I think I’d be in a better position on Monday,” she said.
Her frontbench colleagues Marise Payne, Michaelia Cash and Anne Ruston helped hand over briefing notes to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Simon Birmingham, to speak instead.
Soon after, Ms Reynolds left the chamber.
In the House of Representatives, the Prime Minister also apologised, after Ms Higgins yesterday released a scathing statement about his conduct this week.
“The continued victim-blaming rhetoric by the Prime Minister is personally very distressing to me and countless other survivors,” Ms Higgins said in the statement.
“[Another staff member] refused to provide me with access to the CCTV footage from that evening and continually made me feel as if my ongoing employment would be jeopardised if I proceeded any further with the matter.
“The Government has questions to answer for their own conduct.”
During Question Time, Mr Morrison said he did not want to add to Ms Higgin’s distress.
“I’m very sorry she feels that way, Mr Speaker, I know she must be under tremendous stress after the course of this week,” he said.
“She has shown great courage and great bravery in speaking up over these, Mr Speaker, I have been listening to what she’s been saying.”
On Tuesday the Prime Minister publicly rebuked Linda Reynolds for failing to inform him about the rape allegation.
Mr Morrison told the House he only learned of the rape allegation early on Monday, when he read about it online.
Asked whether it was acceptable that the Defence Minister hadn’t informed him or his office, he said: “It is not — and it shouldn’t happen again.”
President of the Senate Scott Ryan was also visibly emotional as he spoke about the alleged assault.
“I struggle to find the words, be they formal or informal, to fully express my sorrow, occasionally frustration and anger about what has occurred in this workplace, the alleged sexual assault,” he said.
“It’s occurred on my watch as a senator and a custodian of this place.
“At all times I have acted to the best of my ability to assist any process to help Brittany Higgins … find justice without further suffering.”
Counsellors will be at Parliament House next week to assist staff and parliamentarians who are struggling with this news.
Ms Reynolds confirmed earlier this week that the alleged perpetrator of the rape had been sacked in 2019.
But she told the parliament that was over a “security breach”.