Prime Minister Scott Morrison has ordered an investigation into whether anyone in the prime minister’s office tried to privately undermine her loved ones.
He told Parliament he triggered the process after his chief of staff received confidential information from a “primary and direct” source with knowledge of the claims, separate to a formal complaint on the matter filed by Brittany Higgins.
Ms Higgins wrote to Mr Kunkel after Mr Morrison had earlier suggested nobody from the parliamentary press gallery had raised the accusations with his office.
Mr Morrison told Question Time on Thursday he intended to respond to Ms Higgins’ complaint and requested the concerns be investigated.
“I have seen and received that correspondence and I will be responding to Brittany Higgins in the course of today,” he said.
Mr Morrison added that his chief of staff had received separate “confidential information” from a “primary source” regarding the backgrounding complaint.
“My chief of staff received confidential information, not the matter the member is referring to, but confidential information from a primary and direct source regarding these matters,” he said.
“Based on the information, I have asked my chief of staff to commence a process with advice from the Department of Finance to deal with complaints against staff members. We will follow that processing dealing with that matter.”
Mr Morrison had previously been asked more than a dozen times in the parliament whether he has investigated allegations his staff tried to privately undermine Ms Higgins or her loved ones.
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He was earlier asked during a radio interview on Thursday whether he could say categorically that his office had not engaged in such behaviour.
“Nothing has been raised with my office from anyone in the gallery making any of those accusations or any discomfort about anything that my office has done,” he told the ABC.
“People make allegations all the time second, third-hand. But there’s no one who has raised that with my chief of staff out of the gallery, no.”
Shortly after his comments, Ms Higgins lodged the formal complaint.
“In the days following my interview with The Project regarding my experience in Parliament House, I was made aware by numerous journalists about the backgrounding that was happening to my partner,” she wrote to Mr Kunkel.
“To my knowledge, this was being done by staff within the prime minister’s media team.
“I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. It is entirely plausible the prime minister did not know that this was happening, however the more relevant point is that it did occur.”
Ms Higgins also requested to provide evidence to department secretary Phil Gaetjens, who is running an inquiry into which of the prime minister’s staff knew of her rape allegations before they were made public.
The investigation has been put on hold while police investigate the rape allegations.
“It is my express desire to present my evidence to Mr Gaetjens at the appropriate time once the review recommences,” Ms Higgins wrote.
The furore engulfing the government was sparked by Ms Higgins coming forward alleging she was raped by a colleague in 2019.
There have since been historical rape accusations levelled at Attorney-General Christian Porter, which he strenuously denies, and revelations of a toxic workplace culture inside Parliament House.