Wednesday, 17 February 2021
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
Members of Parliament: Staff
I'd like to focus my comments today on answers given by Senator Reynolds to questions asked of her by the opposition. Those questions go directly to the conduct of this minister, and the conduct of this minister is something that she has to be accountable for in this chamber. What we've seen over the last three question times is the minister, after being a bit shaky on her feet with the details and not really knowing how to answer on Monday, take the decision, probably under advice by others, to not answer any questions at all and hide behind two defences—the first one is using Ms Higgins as a defence, that Ms Higgins's privacy needs to be respected now that it's inconvenient for the Minister for Defence, and the second one is this notion that there's an ongoing police investigation, which, to my understanding, hasn't been confirmed. I understand there's an open investigation. But the conduct of this minister is a legitimate avenue of questions by members of this place and deserves serious answers by the Minister for Defence.
As Senator Wong and Senator Keneally have said, this goes to one of the most senior offices in this place about allegations of a most serious crime occurring in this building to someone who came to work here. And, whilst we accept that there are matters that may be subject to police investigation in the future, there are matters which aren't. And those matters go to the conduct of this minister: When did she know? What did she do? How did she respond? And that is what she's avoiding in this place. That can only leave us with two explanations: (1) that she's not being accurate in her comments to this chamber, or deliberately not providing information, or (2) that she was wilfully negligent in her role as an employer and as a minister. That is the only explanation we can be left with, because we saw Minister Cash provide more information frankly in one question than we've had from Senator Reynolds in many questions.
There is absolutely no legal constraint on Senator Reynolds telling this chamber when she became aware, what she did when she became aware and what steps she took to support Ms Higgins. She tells us she did but she does not explain what she did. It is not unreasonable to put those questions to the Minister for Defence. She's a senior minister in this place and there are very public allegations about a serious crime occurring not only in her suite but in her office, on her couch. She cannot any longer hide behind Ms Higgins, who deserves better. The language she uses about wanting to support Ms Higgins—she can support her by being truthful about what happened. By withholding information, what she is continuing is the cover-up that has been underway for two years, which has been the cause of much trauma to Ms Higgins. It's the cover-up, often, that is as traumatic as other elements of a serious crime like this because it compounds the trauma. It means that people she worked for, people she looked up to, who she expected to treat her properly haven't. And Senator Reynolds does nothing—nothing—to dissuade us from that view by not answering.
We know, and it's on the public record, that Senator Reynolds's chief of staff knew after Ms Higgins disclosed on the Tuesday—I think—25 March 2019 what happened to her. On 1 April, Senator Reynolds was in a meeting with Ms Higgins. What happened in the six days? What happened, and why can't Senator Reynolds tell us? That is the missing link of some of what we have asked, and she is wilfully withholding that information from the Senate. She's hiding behind a police investigation and she is hiding behind Ms Higgins. The Senate deserves better, Ms Higgins deserves better and, frankly, I think the rest of Australia believes the defence minister of this country should provide that information. (Time expired)
Question agreed to.