The Brittany Higgins matter nears a conclusion
In two separate senate committee hearings on Tuesday, it emerged that four of the five inquiries that derived from the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins in a ministerial office would be concluded within the next few weeks.
In the first of the hearings, the police commissioner Reece Kershaw told senators that he had been advised by ACT police that a brief of evidence on the alleged rape would be sent to the ACT director of public prosecutions within weeks for a decision on whether there was sufficient evidence for charges to be laid in the matter.
In a separate hearing, the secretary of the department of prime minister and cabinet, Phil Gaetjens, was quizzed on his inquiry into who in the prime minister’s office had knowledge of the Higgins incident and when they became aware of it. When Ms Higgins made her allegation of rape earlier this year the prime minister, Scott Morrison, said he only heard of it several days after the allegation was made public. The alleged rape occurred two years before and Ms Higgins said she had informed the Prime Minister’s staff shortly after the event. They denied that this was the case.
Mr Gaetjens was quizzed about his enquiry by senator Penny Wong. He was asked when his report would be ready and responded:
"As soon as possible, but I think it'll be weeks not days, but not months."
Mr Gaetjens refused to give much away about the contents of the report including how many and which interviewees he had spoken to. He did confirm that he was scheduled to meet and interview Ms Higgins "soon" after she had reached out asking to be part of the inquiry.
Shadow finance minister, senator Katy Gallagher used the senate estimates hearing to accuse the government and the prime minister, in particular, of keeping reports secret and engaging in a cover-up. During Question Time, Labor shadow minister for regional development and member for Ballarat Catherine King asked after the inquiry by the PM’s chief of staff, John Kunkel, into whether any of his staff had briefed against Ms Higgin’s partner, Scott Morrison tabled the report.
It found that Mr Kunkel could not conclude that anyone from the prime minister’s office had briefed against Ms Higgins. Equally, he couldn’t dismiss Ms Higgins' claim that it had occurred. He said that only three journalists had come forward to interviewed by him, and their information was hearsay or third-hand.
When senator Gallagher read the report, she used senate estimates to declare the report a cover-up and named three of the prime minister’s staff for backgrounding against Ms Higgin’s partner. Senator Gallagher made these claims even though there was no evidence to support her assertions and those same staffers had denied backgrounding journalists.
Finally, Stephanie Foster, a deputy secretary in the department of prime minister and cabinet, has been conducting an inquiry into the complaints process for staff in parliament house. The prime minister told question time that her report was imminent and that when it had been seen by cabinet and the coalition party room, it would be provided to all members and senators. Since the Higgins matter came to light there have been 40 complaints of sexual misconduct in parliament house that have been made to the police.
The other report is the sex discrimination commissioner, Kate Jenkin’s, report on the culture in parliament house. This is due in October.