Tuesday, 23 February 2021
Questions without Notice
Members of Parliament: Staff
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Birmingham. I asked you yesterday whether Brittany Higgins's alleged rapist had ongoing access to this building to meet with ministers and ministerial and departmental staff. I'm still waiting on that reply. If he was issued with a lobbyist pass, a member of parliament would have had to have attested that he was of good character to grant him unaccompanied access to the building. Without a pass he would have needed to have been signed-in to the building by a passholder. Did any member of parliament or ministerial staff member authorise the alleged rapist access to the building after he left his role in Minister Reynolds' office, and, if so, who?
I thank the senator for the question. You did ask those questions yesterday. I have been seeking information in relation to those questions and some related ones that were asked yesterday. I apologise that I haven't yet provided the particulars to the chamber of those that you have asked, which I received just prior to question time. I am still securing answers on some of the other matters.
In terms of the particulars of the questions that you have asked, I have consulted with the President, and the Prime Minister with the Speaker, because access to the building is, as you would appreciate, Senator Waters, managed by the presiding officers, not by the government. In relation to the question of a sponsored pass or lobbyist pass, I am advised by the President that the individual did not have access to such a pass and, therefore, obviously nobody had sponsored or acknowledged the facts that you have identified.
In relation to overall access to the building, in terms of being signed in, the President has advised me that, as you would appreciate from signing people in yourself, they are manual, handwritten logs of people who are signed in. Obviously for pass issues there is an electronic record, but the singular visitation is a manual log that is kept across the building. It would, obviously, be a very resource intensive effort for DPS security to go back over those manual logs and try and ascertain the names of any individuals who had entered the building. Of course, there are also public areas of the building for which people are free to come and go in and for which no record is kept. I'm unable to say categorically that he never re-entered the building, but I can say categorically that he was not issued with a sponsored pass, nor did he gain sponsored access, in any knowledge, to the building subsequent to his termination.
Minister, what exactly has Mr Gaetjens been tasked with investigating? Is it the information available to, and the actions taken by, the Prime Minister and his office only, or is it the broader mishandling of Brittany Higgins's rape allegations?
The broader issues that are being addressed will be addressed by the independent multiparty review process that I have described in this place, for which I'm undertaking consultations with all parties, with staff from different parties and with other experts in the field to ensure that we establish a terms of reference and a review process in which everyone can have confidence. The work that Mr Gaetjens is doing is in specific relation to the handling of the particular incident.
I asked yesterday whether Mr Gaetjens' report will be made public and didn't get a response. Can you confirm whether it will be made public and whether there's any truth to the suggestion that it will be released this week and is thus the ultimate tick-and-flick exercise?
I understand the Prime Minister has advised that he has not made decisions in relation to the public release of information there, which obviously may have implications for the police investigation that may ensue following the meetings that we understand to be occurring tomorrow afternoon.
My question is to the Minister for Defence and it relates to some answers given in question time today. In an earlier answer today, the minister indicated to the Senate for the first time that in fact she met with the AFP twice—first on 1 April and the second meeting on 4 April. In relation to the meeting of 1 April, the minister asserted twice in question time today that that was a meeting which she commenced alone with the AFP but then the meeting included both her chief of staff and Ms Higgins. Does the minister stand by that answer?
As I said, I will go back and check what I said yesterday, check what I've said today and I will come back to the chamber at the first opportunity. I am recalling and making sure that I'm recalling, to the best of my recollections, about the circumstances two years ago. I will go back and check what I've said and I will get back to the chamber.
I give you the opportunity again; you gave this answer some 10 minutes ago. Do you stand by the answer you gave in question time today that you attended not one but two meetings with the AFP, the first of which included Ms Higgins?
As I have said, I will go back and I will check my records of my recollections and I will get back. Given the importance and seriousness of the question, I will get back and come back to the chamber at the first possible opportunity to answer that question.