Tuesday, 23 February 2021
Questions without Notice
Members of Parliament: Staff
My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Reynolds. Given Ms Higgins has released the minister from any privacy concerns will the minister now answer the question she was asked yesterday? At any time did the minister disclose to any other minister that her former staff member Ms Higgins had made allegations that she was raped in the minister's office? If yes, which ministers and when?
Thank you very much for that question. Again, as I said yesterday, there are a number of these matters that, after Ms Higgins has gone to the AFP tomorrow, I will discuss with the AFP and I will also discuss with the various other inquiries. As I've already said, I did not at any time disclose—
Opposition senators interjecting—
As I have affirmed in this place, I did not advise the Prime Minister because it was not my place to do so. I also did not advise Senator Cash at any time because, again, it was not my agency to do so. I had a discussion with the Special Minister of State at the time. To the best of my recollection it was not about this matter, it was about my second staff member.
Given Ms Higgins has released the minister from any privacy concerns, will the minister now tell the Senate on what date the minister first become aware that her chief of staff had sought advice from the Department of Finance about the handling of an alleged sexual assault? On what date did the minister first see the advice and what action did she take?
I thank Senator Ayres for that question. My understanding is that my chief of staff was provided a report of the access to my office either by the Department of Finance or by DPS and my recollection was that it was on Wednesday the 27th.
I don't think that was the question that I asked. Given Ms Higgins has released the minister from any privacy concerns will the minister now tell the Senate why, when Ms Higgins was asked if she wanted to go to the police at the meeting with the minister and her chief of staff on 1 April 2019, she was told, 'We need to know now'?
Thank you very much, Senator Ayres, for that question. As I have said repeatedly in this chamber, Ms Higgins' recollections and her story are hers to tell. It is not my place in this chamber to speculate further on that—
If the minister is addressing the question and providing reasoning for her answer and I believe that relates to the terms of the question I don't believe I can rule that out as not being directly relevant. You've reminded the minister of the question but I can't instruct the minister how to answer a question. I call the minister to continue.
Thank you very much, Mr President. As I have said a number of times in this chamber over the last two weeks, those opposite are asking me questions premised on the assertions of facts. This is neither the place nor the time for me to discuss or debate the accuracy of some of the assertions of those opposite. The time for me to do that is with the Australian Federal Police and also the other inquiries underway. I still believe I owe Brittany her agency and her privacy.