As just about everyone in Australia knows, a young female staff-member, Brittany Higgins was allegedly raped in Parliament House after a night out with colleagues, which she had organised. Ms Higgins says she was raped by a colleague in then Minister for Defence Industry, Senator Reynolds’ ministerial office, where they both worked, in the early hours of Saturday, March 23, 20191.
The government has said that the Prime Minister’s Principal Private Secretary, Yaron Finkelstein and Chief of Staff, John Kunkel, treated the incident as a security breach when first told in late March 2019, that Ms Higgins and her colleague had returned to the ministerial suite late on a Friday night. The Prime Minister’s office and Reynolds decided the man involved should have his employment terminated, a decision made on the subsequent Tuesday, March 26. It was two days later, Thursday March 28, that Brittany Higgins told Reynolds about the rape.1
Morrison has indicated he was annoyed with Reynolds for not telling him about the rape allegation. Higgins stated that she had been telephoned by Finkelstein several times over 2019 and 2020, and that he knew of the rape allegation only days after the event. Given Finkelstein’s involvement, it is extraordinarily difficult to believe that Prime Minister Scott Morrison was not told about the rape allegation until February 12, 2021, almost two years after it happened. This was the date when journalist Samantha Maiden contacted the Prime Minister’s office about the matter.1
Cockups do happen, especially with this government, when they seem to reel from one to the next. However, something odd happened in parliament once this all blew up. Tanya Plibersek asked a question of Scott Morrison: “Brittany Higgins says that the prime minister’s principal secretary was aware that she had been sexually assaulted in the [now] defence minister’s office soon after the reported assault in March 2019. When and how did the prime minister first become aware of the reported sexual assault of Brittany Higgins?” Morrison stumbled over the reply: “Mr Speaker, as I said this morning, I became aware of the alleged sexual assault at about 8.30 yesterday morning. That is true. That is when I became aware of it, Mr Speaker. And the first that my office became aware of an alleged sexual assault, I’m advised, was on the 5th of April this year. Sorry. No, the 12th …I’m sorry, I misread that. Apologies. 12th of February 2021. That’s when my office first became aware, I’m advised, of an alleged sexual assault.”2,3
If Morrison maintains he can misread 12th as being 5th, and February as being April, he either needs new glasses, or is lying. Given his previous efforts, I expect the latter is more likely. It must be disturbing for Morrison to realise that, inadvertently, he almost told the truth.2
The government has already started the process of discrediting Brittany Higgins. Morrison has stated that Finkelstein did not telephone Higgins1, and already some of the misogynists associated with the government are blaming Higgins for getting drunk. The Liberals maintain they don’t have a women problem. Really?
Acknowledgement: Thanks to Kyle Jacob de Boer for making the connections.