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.

12:02 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—The government does not support the motion, which goes further than seeking to have the minister make a statement but does seek to present provisions for further debate in this chamber about the statement as well. Ms Higgins's welfare and wishes have always been and remain the government's paramount concern. This includes not prejudicing any potential further police inquiries. Minister Reynolds has already answered a number of questions on these matters and Minister Reynolds will further update the Senate later today in relation to any matters on which she has sought advice.

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to make a short statement.

Leave granted.

Senator Roberts and I have the greatest sympathy for this young woman. It needs to be noted that it takes an enormous amount of courage to speak out as a victim of any sexual offence, especially in Brittany's circumstances, where politics have cruelly thrust her into the media spotlight.

I'm quite disgusted by Labor's exploitative behaviour on this matter, particularly Senator Wong's, whose own chief of staff lost his job, following a claim reported in The Australian on 30 July 2020 with the headline 'Quit after sex claim'. Anthony Albanese brings shame to this place for allowing Senator Wong to bring, on his behalf, these predictable actions. If it's not already, it should be a Federal Police matter, and therefore One Nation will not support this motion.

12:03 pm

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

I regret having to respond to that. I'd seek leave to make a very short statement.

Leave granted.

My view and the Labor Party's view, Senator Hanson, is that in these matters we should always act in accordance with the views of the complainant and respect the wishes of the complainant. That is the approach, in fact, we have taken in relation to Ms Higgins, which I think Senator Gallagher put, and that is the approach I took in relation to the matter you raise.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is the motion moved by Senator Wong be agreed to.