Wednesday, 17 February 2021
Questions without Notice
Members of Parliament: Staff
My question is to the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Cash. I refer to reports that, in October 2019, following media inquiries into an alleged assault at Parliament House and in preparation for estimates hearings with the Australian Federal Police, the minister left Ms Higgins a voicemail message in which she said: 'Daniel has got everything under control, I promise you.' Can the minister advise the Senate what her office had under control?
Can I just say that, like all of us in this chamber, I am absolutely devastated by what Brittany has gone through. Brittany was a valued member of my team for more than a year and a half.
Senator Watt, in October 2019 a journalist made a media inquiry that involved Brittany and her previous employment. When Brittany discussed this matter with my chief of staff and I, she made it very clear that the matter had been dealt with at the time, seven months previously. She did not want to discuss the matter and she did not want the matter taken any further. Her focus was on her distress at the journalist's inquiry and ensuring that at all times her own privacy was respected. We respected her wishes for privacy. But I made it very clear to her that, if she needed anything, she could always come to us.
I only recently became aware. In fact, in relation to the alleged rape, it was when a journalist contacted my office for comment. On Friday 5 February, Brittany and I spoke, and she disclosed details of what had occurred. I told her that I wanted her to stay in her role and that I would do anything to assist her, including relocating her position to Queensland if she wished. I offered to go directly to the AFP with her so that she could provide them with a statement. I said I would sit with her while she did this. She advised me she did not want to pursue it. I also offered to go to the Prime Minister's office with her, to raise the issue directly with them. She said no. She advised me that at all times she wanted her privacy respected. I told Brittany that I would reluctantly accept her resignation, but I made it very clear to her that I was there for her and that, if she needed anything, all she had to do was ask.
I appreciate the minister answering these sensitive questions. How did the minister become aware of the allegation of rape and with whom did she discuss this issue? What action did she then take?
I believe that I did just answer that question. I provided you with the date I discussed it with Brittany and she advised me of what she wanted. I offered to go directly to the Australian Federal Police with her. I offered to sit down with her while she made a statement. She said she did not want the matter pursued.