Australia

Text exchange records cast doubt on response of Scott Morrison’s office to Brittany Higgins’ rape allegations

This article contains references to rape and sexual assault. 

Explosive text messages have cast serious doubt over when the prime minister’s office first knew about the alleged rape of a Liberal staffer.

Brittany Higgins says she was sexually assaulted by a male colleague inside Parliament House in 2019.

Scott Morrison claims his office did not find out about the alleged rape until last week and he was not informed until Monday.

But records show a text message exchange between Ms Higgins and a fellow Liberal staffer within a fortnight of the incident.

In the message, the Liberal staffer said he had spoken directly with a member of Mr Morrison’s staff.

“Spoke to PMO. He was mortified to hear about it and how things have been handled,” he said.

“He’s going to discuss with COS – no one else. I flagged need for councillor (sic) and desire to be closer to home during election.”

PMO refers to the prime minister’s office and COS is shorthand for chief of staff.

The prime minister is standing by his timeline, despite Ms Higgins saying at least three of his staff had prior knowledge of the incident.

While the messages appear to confirm her account, Mr Morrison wants the nation’s top public servant to review communication records.

“If there was anything different here, I would like to know,” he told reporters in Sydney on Friday.

“I want to know and that is why I have asked the secretary of my department to actually test that advice that I received.”

Mr Morrison denied he had misled the public.

“I have sought to be as open and honest as I can be about this matter. I have told you everything I know about this matter. I will continue to,” he said.

The prime minister maintains he was horrified by the allegations.

“It shattered me, did absolutely shattered me. The many ramifications of this but, frankly the one that shattered me the most was just the sheer humanity of what has occurred here. That was deeply distressing, as I am sure it was for everybody when they were first confronted with this news.”

The Australian Greens plan to move a motion in the Senate seeking an independent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the alleged rape. 

Greens senator Larissa Waters tweeted on Friday that she would move the motion on Monday.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the text messages completely contradicted Mr Morrison’s claim that his office wasn’t informed until last week.

“It’s just incomprehensible that the prime minister’s office, given a reported sexual assault had occurred 50 metres from his office, wouldn’t have then had a discussion about handling the issue,” he told the ABC.

“It just doesn’t stack up.”

Mr Albanese said Ms Higgins deserved straight answers about who knew what and when.

“I believe Brittany Higgins when it comes to the incident and tragedy.”

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the prime minister’s public statements on the timeline were based on advice from his staff.

“If he has been misled then that is a different level for him to deal with,” Mr Dutton told Nine.

“But on the advice he has received during the week, and as he said in parliament, that’s the facts as he knows them. To be reasonable, he can only report the facts as he’s advised by his staff.”

With reporting by Rashida Yosufzai

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, you can call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.

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