Senate debates

Thursday, 18 February 2021


Members of Parliament: Staff

12:00 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

(1) That the Senate notes the significant questions arising from the allegations of rape made by Ms Brittany Higgins and the response of the Minister for Defence.

(2) That the Minister for Defence be required to attend the Senate at 10 am on Monday, 22 February 2021 to provide an explanation, of no more than 15 minutes, of the matters outlined in paragraph (1), including:

(a) when she first became aware of the alleged rape and what action she took, and

(b) what contact she had with the Prime Minister or his staff in relation to the alleged rape.

(3) At the conclusion of the Minister's explanation:

(a) any senator may move to take note of the explanation, or failure to make the explanation, required by paragraph (2); and

(b) any motion under paragraph (3) (a) shall have precedence over all business for up to one hour, and a senator shall not speak for more than ten minutes to such a motion.

I seek leave to make a short statement, given the importance of the matter.

Leave granted.

I thank the Senate. I do regret having to move this motion and I'd encourage the government to consider simply requiring the minister to attend the chamber and to make a statement. I think, in the circumstances, it is reasonable. Minister Reynolds does have a responsibility to explain her conduct both to Ms Higgins and also to the Senate. Regrettably, in question time, what we have seen is a continued refusal by the minister to respond to questions about her conduct. Leaving aside what people may think about these issues, it is reasonable for the Senate to require a minister to explain his or her conduct.

I also am deeply, deeply concerned by some of what has been reported today which reflects the handling of this serious allegation, the serious crime of rape, as a political problem. We see reports of rumours being spread in the press gallery that appear to be done with the objective of undermining Ms Higgins and delegitimising her experience. I don't believe you can say, when the cameras are on, 'We need to change the culture,' but then spread rumours and background journalists. If you want to change the culture—and we all would want that—then people should stop spreading rumours. They should stop treating this allegation of rape as a political problem to manage. They should front up to this chamber and be accountable. Ms Brittany Higgins deserves nothing less.


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