Australia

Texts cast doubt on alleged rape response

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 The Australian has obtained a text message exchange between Ms Higgins and a fellow Liberal staffer within a fortnight of the incident.

In the text 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.

One of those employees was chief of staff to then-defence industry minister Linda Reynolds at the time Ms Higgins was allegedly raped.

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 on Friday.

“It just doesn’t stack up. It’s no wonder that people, from Peta Credlin to Malcolm Turnbull, have questioned the accounts.”

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.”

Mr Dutton said if new information arises, that can be investigated as well.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg denied the text messages blew Mr Morrison’s timeline out of the water.

“I’m not aware of any difference to the statement the prime minister made earlier this week about the timeline for his office knowing and for him knowing,” Mr Frydenberg told the ABC.

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