Thursday, 18 February 2021
Questions to the President
Members of Parliament: Staff
Mr President, my question is to you, regarding Brittany Higgins's rape allegations. Did you or your staff tell the Prime Minister or any of his staff or any other members of the ministry that a request had been made to DPS on 18 April 2019 by the sexual assault unit of the AFP seeking access to the CCTV footage of the evening of Brittany Higgins's alleged rape? If so, when?
Can I commence, Senator Waters, by saying, for the first time this week in this place, that I struggle to find the words, be they formal or informal, to fully express my sorrow and, occasionally, frustration and anger, at what has occurred in this workplace: the alleged sexual assault. It's occurred on my watch as a senator and, indeed, as a custodian of this place. At all times I have acted to the best of my ability to assist any process that will help Brittany Higgins, whose identity I was not aware of until last Friday, find justice without further suffering and with her own ability to choose her course of action.
The Speaker and I have answered a number of queries this week and issued a statement yesterday. I think senators will appreciate that the building is jointly administered by the Speaker and myself. We followed the procedures. The Federal Police requested viewing of the footage. They saw that footage. With their agreement, we have continued to store that footage since that time. When we received anonymous and serious allegations we referred those to the AFP. We then, following that, commissioned our independent inquiry into the actions of staff in this building. Now, I think it's appropriate—I should add, to clarify—that neither of the presiding officers, myself or the Speaker, has viewed the footage. The footage in question has been viewed only by members of the AFP, authorised officials from the Department of Parliamentary Services and the independent investigator. We have not provided any footage access to any parliamentarian or member of staff.
Now, I don't plan to say any more at this point, because it is a courtesy to the Speaker, as a joint administrator of the building, that I should consult with him, and I will come back to the chamber and, if necessary, consult with the authorities before I add anything in this chamber that may inadvertently interfere with any investigation underway.
Thanks very much, President. Noting your comments, I will persist with supplementary questions. I might also ask that you answer the first question about whether you told the Prime Minister or his staff or any other members of the ministry that DPS had received a request from the assault unit of the AFP. I refer to that statement yesterday. Did you or any of your staff tell the PM or any of his staff or members of the ministry when that unnamed senator referred the correspondence to you about a serious incident in March 2020?
Thank you, President. I have a final supplementary question. Brittany Higgins has said that she was repeatedly denied access to the CCTV footage showing her and her alleged rapist entering the building and Minister Reynolds's suite. Did her request to release the footage to her ever make it to you, and, if so, why was that request denied?
The footage was requested by the AFP. The process of doing that is outlined in a policy of this place. It was quarantined and then stored for the AFP to view. As far as I am aware, no request from Brittany to see the footage came to the presiding officers. But I will, again, come back to the chamber and correct that and provide further information.