Thursday, 25 February 2021
Questions without Notice
Members of Parliament: Staff
My question is to the Prime Minister. How can it be that, according to the Minister for Home Affairs, who was briefed by the AFP on 11 February, information provided by the office of the Minister for Home Affairs to the chief of staff to the Prime Minister the next day about a reported sexual assault just metres from where the Prime Minister works was not conveyed to the Prime Minister?
The matter just raised by the Leader of the Opposition has been on the public record since Monday of last week. I've been very clear that I learned of these matters on 15 February and ,that my office, I am advised, knew of these matters on 12 February, which is exactly what the Minister for Home Affairs just said. I learned of it on the Monday and my office learned of it, I am advised, on the Friday. The Minister for Home Affairs advised my office, through his chief of staff to mine, on the Friday.
What is relevant here is what should members, senators, leaders of the opposition, prime ministers, ministers, shadow ministers and whoever do, in the case of one of our members of staff—or, indeed, a member, a senator or a colleague—if we are aware of, or they wish to make a complaint in relation to, an alleged sexual assault? The commissioner of the Australian Federal Police has advised all of us that what should be done, in respecting the person who is at the centre of this, is to advise and pass this information on to the police. That is what we've been advised to do. That is the process. That is the process the Minister for Defence Industry followed at the time. Had I been in a position of knowing about this earlier, I would have done two things: I would have inquired about the welfare of Brittany Higgins at that time and about what support had been provided to her; and I would have inquired as to whether the matter had been raised with the police. On both of those cases, as we have learned, in the answers that have been provided—
The Prime Minister is now talking about hypotheticals. This is a real circumstance. This happened. The Prime Minister's chief of staff was told by the minister's chief of staff on the Friday, and the question goes to: why didn't your chief of staff tell you? How is it possible that they waited until Monday?
The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. The Prime Minister has certainly addressed the question, at the beginning of his answer. He is now providing some context that I don't think is at odds with the relevance of the question. I'm listening to the Prime Minister. He's in order.
As I was observing, they are the steps that any member—had it been advised to them or to me, on that Friday or later, or at any other time, they are the inquiries that you would have made. It is the case that, in both cases, the action of the minister at the time had sought to put support around Brittany Higgins, as they did. As we have apologised for and accepted over time, it is very clear that Brittany did not feel that she had that support. That is understood, and that is the subject of the multiparty inquiry we are now engaged in. But it is the case that this matter was advised to police and that the police did follow through on these matters.
I have been very clear about when my office advised me they knew about this matter and when I knew about it. I was not pleased that I was not advised at the time, on the Friday, and my office— (Time expired)