Wednesday, 17 February 2021
Questions without Notice
Members of Parliament: Staff
My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Reynolds. It relates to the allegations of rape which have been made publicly. The alleged rape occurred on the evening of Friday 22 March 2019 or the morning of Saturday 23 March 2019. On or before Monday the 25th, the minister's office is made aware an incident took place. On Tuesday 26 March 2019 the minister's then chief of staff, who currently works in the Prime Minister's office, meets with both the alleged rapist and Ms Higgins. Ms Higgins discloses the alleged rape. On Monday 1 April, the minister finally meets with Ms Higgins. How can the minister maintain to the Senate and to the public that, six days after Ms Higgins disclosed the alleged rape to the minister's chief of staff, she, the minister, still did not know?
I thank Senator Wong for that question. Like everybody in this building, I stand, I still stand, ready to assist Brittany in any way that I can, and this begins and ends by allowing Brittany to guide this process, respecting her privacy and respecting the integrity of what is now a police investigation. She has indicated that she intends to pursue her complaint with the Australian Federal Police, and all of these matters go to the heart of that inquiry.
I do make this point of order: if there is an active investigation, the minister should demonstrate that. If an investigation is underway, the minister should demonstrate how being upfront about the minister's conduct would compromise the investigation, because that is the test—that is the test.
As I said, again, at the heart of my and my chief of staff's response to this matter has always been seeking the appropriate advice and ensuring that she was supported in whatever decision she made about her own life. This is, as I understand it, now the subject of an active police investigation. It has always been an open investigation, is my advice, and I understand—
I raise my previous point of order. Is the minister assuring the chamber that she has knowledge of an active police investigation, and can she advise the chamber on what basis her being accountable for her conduct compromises that? That is the test, and anything less is you avoiding your accountability to this place.
The minister has previously said any complaint of violence—verbal, physical or sexual—must always be taken seriously, particularly when, as members of parliament, we must be setting the standard for members of the community. Why has this minister so failed to meet her own standard? Why is she continuing the cover-up?
All I can reiterate is, as I believe this is the subject of an ongoing AFP investigation, that is where this matter rests. It is the right of the individual to control the process, which is why I referred and facilitated her meeting with the Australian Federal Police at the time, because it was appropriate—
An honourable senator interjecting—