Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has called Brittany Higgins’ rape allegations a “she said, he said” situation as he defended his decision not to tell Prime Minister Scott Morrison when he found out about the claims earlier this month.
Higgins alleges that a male colleague in Defence Minister Linda Reynolds’ ministerial office raped her at Parliament House in 2019. Higgins has said she felt pressure not to proceed with a formal complaint for fear of losing her job.
News.com.au reports that Dutton was aware of the allegations about four days before Higgins went public earlier this month because the Australian Federal Police (AFP) had briefed him.
Dutton on Thursday admitted he learnt of the allegations days before Scott Morrison says he found out, and that he didn’t tell the PM because it was an AFP “operational matter”.
Dutton then only told the Prime Minister’s office when he found out that the media was making enquiries.
“On (February 12th), when there were media enquiries, we provided some detail to him and that the AFP had an interest in this matter,” Dutton told reporters at a door stop interview on Thursday.
“I wasn’t provided with the ‘she said/he said’ details of the allegations. It was at a higher level.”
Australian Federal Police commissioner Reece Kershaw on Thursday sent a stern letter to the PM warning about delays in reporting alleged criminal conduct.
“I cannot state strongly enough the importance of timely referrals of allegations of criminal conduct,” Commissioner Kershaw said as first published by news.com.au.
“Failure to report alleged criminal behaviour in this manner, or choosing to communicate or disseminate allegations via other means, such as through the media or third parties, risks prejudicing any subsequent police investigation. Any delay in reporting criminal conduct can result in the loss of key evidence, continuation of the offending and/or reoffending by the alleged perpetrator.”
Two female employees of Morrison’s Liberal party, one of which is Higgins, said last week they had been raped by the same man in 2019 and 2020.
Both have yet to make a formal police complaint, but Higgins, who has spoken publicly about her alleged rape, said last week that she would do so this week.
Fuelling pressure on Morrison, the Australian newspaper published on Monday the account of a third woman, who said she had also been raped by the unnamed former Liberal party worker on the night of June 29 and the morning of June 30 in 2016. A fourth woman has since made a complaint about the man at the centre of all three allegations, alleging inappropriate sexual behaviour in a Canberra bar.
Morrison’s Liberals have faced heavy criticism about the way it handled Higgins’ internal complaint to Reynolds and have faced daily questions from media and the opposition about the unclear timeline of events after Higgins told her seniors of the allegations in 2019 .
On Wednesday, Reynolds took medical leave and was admitted to hospital, via doctor’s orders, with a preexisting condition. Reynolds was due to address the National Press Club on Wednesday but the appearance was cancelled.
Reynolds last week apologised to Higgins but denied that she or her staff pressured her not to pursue a police complaint.
Morrison maintains he only learnt of the alleged complaints last week.