Pictured: Alleged rape survivor Brittany Higgins
Brittany Higgins has threatened to sue Defence Minister Linda Reynolds for calling her a ‘lying cow’ when she went public with Parliament House rape claims.
Ms Reynolds made the tasteless comments in her office area within earshot of several staff members and public servants on February 15.
It was the same day Ms Higgins went public with allegations a senior colleague raped her in Senator Reynolds’ Parliament House office after a night out in March, 2019.
On Thursday, Ms Higgins asked her lawyer to prepare a defamation case against the defence minister unless she apologises for the ‘distasteful character assassination’.
In a letter to Senator Reynolds, lawyer Rebekah Giles called the statement ‘demeaning and belittling’ and ‘highly defamatory of our client’s good character and unblemished reputation’.
‘The cavalier manner in which those words were spoken make it plain that they were not spoken privately or in confidence,’ she wrote, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
‘You are also aware that this distasteful character assassination of our client has been republished widely, causing her immense hurt and distress.
‘Your comments are particularly malicious in view of the assault on our client that took place in your office, which is now the subject of a police investigation.’
The prime minister said Senator Linda Reynolds (pictured) was frustrated over suggestions she did not give enough support to Ms Higgins at the time of the incident
Senator Reynolds (pictured with Ms Higgins) has known about the alleged rape for more than two years but did not inform the prime minister to respect Ms Higgins’ privacy and welfare
Ms Higgins said the comments were ‘incredibly hurtful’, and hit back at Ms Reynolds’ statement to The Australian on Wednesday that blamed the remark on ‘stress’.
‘I appreciate that it has been a stressful time but that sort of behaviour and language is never excusable,’Ms Higgins said in a statement.
‘It’s just further evidence of the toxic workplace culture that occurs behind closed doors in Parliament House.’
Senator Reynolds apologised to staff shortly after making the comment, and told Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday it was ‘inappropriate and wrong’.
She also said the remark was not in reference to the rape allegation, but to separate reports detailing her own response to the incident.
Brittany Higgins, then 24, has alleged she was raped by a colleague inside Parliament House in March 2019
Scott Morrison said the remark was made in a private office and she later apologised to staff for the outburst
DEFENCE MINISTER LINDA REYNOLDS’ FULL STATEMENT
‘A report in The Australian attributed some remarks to me regarding the very serious allegations made by my former staff member, Ms Brittany Higgins.
‘I have never questioned Ms Higgins account of her alleged sexual assault and have always sought to respect her agency in this matter.
‘I did however comment on news reports regarding surrounding circumstances that I felt had been misrepresented.
‘I have consistently respected Ms Higgins’s agency and privacy and said this is her story to tell and no one else’s.
‘Ms Higgins’s allegations are very serious and that is how they must be treated to ensure her legal rights are protected. I welcome her decision to progress this matter with the Australian Federal Police.’
Ms Reynolds – who is on medical leave – denied questioning Ms Higgins’ allegations or besmirching her character.
‘I have never questioned Ms Higgins’ account of her alleged sexual assault and have always sought to respect her agency in this matter,’ she said in a statement.
‘I did however comment on news reports regarding surrounding circumstances that I felt had been misrepresented.’
Ms Higgins didn’t proceed with the police complaint in 2019 out of fear she would lose her job as a media adviser.
Brittany Higgins, then 24, alleged she was raped by a colleague inside Parliament House in March 2019
Former NSW Liberal staffer Dhanya Mani said the Ms Reynolds should be ‘disciplined’ for the comments, and asked her to consider whether she had ‘internalised misogyny’ due to her work in federal politics.
‘For there to be an environment that exists in which an extremely senior woman in politics felt that she would be able to say that somebody who… has come forward with rape allegations is a “lying cow” is a reflection of just how broken our parliaments are,’ she said on ABC’s Q&A on Thursday night.
‘How misogynistic our parliaments can be and of the gaslighting an abuse that parliamentarians are prepared to put at the feet of survivors.
‘Linda Reynolds is part of the problem. Usually there would be disciplinary action. There needs to be disciplinary action.’
Mr Morrison criticised Ms Reynolds for the comment, but refused to sack her.
Speaking at a battery factory in the New South Wales Hunter Valley on Thursday, the prime minister said she was under ‘significant stress’ when she made comments.
‘She deeply regrets it. They were offensive remarks. She should never have made them. I don’t condone them,’ Mr Morrison said.
Ms Higgins says the comments made by Ms Reynolds were ‘incredibly hurtful’
Independent senator Jacqui Lambie is calling for the minister to quit over the remark.
‘She’s gone this morning. She needs to resign immediately,’ Senator Lambie told Sky News.
‘If she’s not coming out denying that, if she’s trying to smooth it over and throw it somewhere else then I think she’s finished. Her career’s done.’
Senior Labor frontbencher Penny Wong said Senator Reynolds needed to explain herself.
‘It’s obviously not an acceptable comment and I think the minister needs to respond publicly,’ she told ABC radio.
Independent MP Zali Steggall said she was shocked to hear Senator Reynolds used the derogatory term towards Ms Higgins.
‘That’s incredibly disappointing and inappropriate of Linda Reynolds and the minister should know better,’ she told the Nine Network.
‘It makes her position all the more untenable.’
Brittany Higgins has hit back at Linda Reynolds after it was revealed she called her a ‘lying cow’
Ms Higgins has recently reinstated her official complaint with the Australian Federal Police.
Three other women have since alleged they were assaulted by the same man.
He was sacked as a ministerial adviser because of a security breach on the night of Ms Higgins’ alleged rape.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne has taken over Defence duties while Ms Reynolds is on leave.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton previously admitted he was told about the alleged rape but chose not to tell the prime minister about it to avoid compromising a potential police investigation.
Mr Dutton confirmed Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw informed him about the alleged assault on February 11, four days before Mr Morrison says he was told.
Ms Higgins spoke to police on February 5, with the AFP then informing Mr Dutton.
BRITTANY HIGGINS TIMELINE
March 22: Anonymous male staffer of Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and media adviser Brittany Higgins arrive at Parliament House intoxicated.
A security officer signs in the pair and then takes them to the ministerial wing before leaving. Ms Higgins is then allegedly raped and left alone by staffer.
March 23: Security officers find Ms Higgins half-naked in the office early in the morning. The Department of Finance (which is in charge of Parliament House offices) request room to be cleaned before work on Monday (March 25)
March 26: Senator Reynolds’ chief of staff holds a meeting with Ms Higgins over a ‘security breach’. The male staffer is also brought in for a separate meeting and is sacked. His Parliament House pass is cancelled the next day.
April 1: Ms Higgins meets with her boss – Senator Reynolds – and the minister’s chief of staff Fiona Brown to talk about the alleged rape. The meeting takes place in the same room as the alleged rape.
April 4: Senator Reynolds and Ms Brown meet with AFP assistant commissioner to discuss ‘allegations of sexual assault’.
April 8: Ms Higgins goes to Belconnen police station. There is dispute over whether officers have trouble accessing the CCTV footage from Parliament House.
April 13: Ms Higgins tells police she won’t proceed with complaint. She later told reporters she felt pressure not to be a distraction during the federal election – which was called two days earlier on April 11.
June: Ms Higgins begins to work for minister Michaelia Cash after the election
November 9: ABC’s Four Corners’ airs a story exposing the ‘sex and booze’ culture in Canberra, including an affair between married minister Alan Tudge and his staffer Rachelle Miller.
February 5: Ms Higgins resigns from her new job, working for Senator Michaelia Cash, due to the ongoing trauma from the alleged rape.
February 11: Peter Dutton is briefed by Australian Federal Police over Ms Higgins’ allegations. He advises the Prime Minister’s Office the following day but does not tell Scott Morrison
February 15: news.com.au break Ms Higgins’ story on Monday morning. Mr Morrison claims it is the first time he was made aware of the allegations.
Journalist Samantha Maiden questions why the PM was not made aware of the allegations by his staffers, saying she approached the government for comment at 2.30pm on Friday February 12 regarding the allegations.
The Project interview Ms Higgins later the same night.
February 16: Mr Morrison and Ms Reynolds both offer apologies in parliament.