Senator’s embarrassing Brittany bungle
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has been forced to correct her answers to the Senate after she falsely claimed she held two meetings with police over an alleged rape in her office including one on April 1, 2019, with the complainant Brittany Higgins.
In an embarrassing blunder, Senator Reynolds has told the Senate that she never met with the Australian Federal Police on that day and that she personally only met with the AFP once, on April 4, 2019, at the AFP’s request.
But in even worse news for the Defence Minister, the bungle appears to have been repeated by the Prime Minister Scott Morrison who also told the House of Representatives that Ms Higgins had met with the AFP on April 1, the same day she met with the Defence Minister about the alleged rape.
Senator Reynolds became confused in the Senate on Tuesday after she was asked a barrage of questions.
“I stand by what I said in the chamber yesterday. And just to be very clear: I met on the first of April with the AFP Brittany, and my then Chief of Staff,’’ she said.
“As I’ve said in this chamber previously: during the course of that meeting, it became apparent to me that the matter was more serious than a security breach, to which I had been previously advised.
“That same day, I organised for Brittany to meet with the AFP, something which I have been advised did occur by way of follow up and clarification.
“I met briefly with the Australian Federal Police on the fourth of April, at their request. I commenced the meeting, alone, and I was joined for a brief period by my chief of staff.”
In response, Tasmanian Senator Helen Polley accused Senator Reynolds of misleading Parliament.
“After misleading the senate yesterday, the minister had to correct the record and confirm her chief of staff had attended her meeting with the AFP Assistant Commissioner. Why did the minister mislead the Senate, by saying she had met with the Assistant Commissioner alone?” she asked.
In response, Senato Reynolds said there was “no misunderstanding”.
“Just to be totally clear and I’ll just say again to say that there’s no misunderstanding: I did meet with the Australian Federal Police twice. The first one was on the first of April with Brittany and my then chief of staff.
“And as I’ve said, then it’s my understanding that Brittany then met with the AFP out of the office and not in my presence. And by the way of follow up at their request,’’ she said.
“I met briefly with the Australian Federal Police with the Assistant Commissioner on the fourth of April. I commenced the meeting alone. And then my chief of staff joined me at the very end of the meeting.”
However, in her correspondence released at 6pm on Tuesday night, she conceded she was wrong about the April 1 meeting and wrong about meeting the AFP with Ms Higgins.
“I did not meet with the AFP on April 1,’’ she wrote.
The Prime Minister has previously told the House of Representatives that Ms Higgins met with police on April 1.
RELATED: Brittany Higgins’ partner speaks out
Earlier on Tuesday, Senator Reynolds revealed for the first time that she discussed the termination of an alleged rapist with the Special Minister of State Alex Hawke as she stumbled in the Senate over how many times she met with police.
In fresh revelations over who knew what and when, the Senator has told the Senate that she discussed the termination with the minister responsible for staffing entitlements at the time.
But the Defence Minister implied she had discussed the termination with the Special Minister of State, not the allegations that Brittany Higgins had raised over a potential sexual assault.
The Liberal staffer was terminated for the “security breach” of bringing Ms Higgins to the office after hours.
The Special Minister of State at the time of the incident was NSW MP Alex Hawke, who is now the Immigration Minister.
“My recollection matches Senator Reynolds’ comments in the Senate, that there was one call made regarding accessing general advice about termination processes in 2019,” Mr Hawke told news.com.au.
“The details and nature of the matter was not discussed.”
There’s still questions over the size of the alleged rapists’ termination payout that was provided by the Morrison Government and whether anyone connected with the Liberal Party provided references.
In Parliament, Senator Reynolds was asked: “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?”
In response, Senator Reynolds revealed for the first time her contact with the Special Minister of State.
“I did not advise the Prime Minister because it was not my place to do so,” she said.
“I also did not advise Senator Cash at any time because again, it was not my agency to do so. I had one discussion with a special Minister of State at the time. To the best of my recollection he was not about this matter. It was about my second staff member.”
Ms Higgins told news.com.au that she had never met with the AFP with the Defence Minister. Ms Reynolds told the Senate that she would go back and check her records.
Earlier, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash, who employed Ms Higgins after she left Senator Reynolds’ office, told reporters that while she knew of an “incident” she was not aware it was an alleged rape.
“Well, that is exactly what the Defence Minister said to my Chief of Staff,” she said.
“There was merely a media inquiry. I then spoke to my Chief of Staff and Brittany together.
“Brittany was actually concerned about the media inquiry and that she was a media adviser and she was going to have people inquiring about her. She was very concerned that she was going to become a story. It was actually about her job and nothing more.”
Asked again if she knew it involved a sexual assault, Senator Cash insisted at that point, in October, 2019, she did not know.
“I have absolutely not and I have made my position very clear in the Senate,” she said.
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham also revealed that the Liberal staffer who previously worked for Senator Reynolds did not have a lobbyist pass to return to Parliament after he left his employment.
“I’m advised by the president that the individual did not have access to such a pass, and therefore, obviously, nobody had sponsored or, or acknowledged the facts that you have identified,’’ he said.
“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 or game sponsored access in knowledge to the building subsequent to his termination.”
Originally published as Senator’s embarrassing Brittany bungle