Minister pays up over ‘lying cow’ slur
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has settled a defamation legal case with former staffer Brittany Higgins with the damages she has agreed to pay to be donated to a Canberra based organisation that assists victims of sexual assault.
Ms Higgins will not receive any financial payment or compensation under the terms of the agreement and did not seek any from Senator Reynolds or the Morrison Government to do so in pursuit of resolving the matter.
News.com.au has confirmed that Senator Reynolds will withdraw the remarks and offer an unspecified charity donation.
"On Friday 5 March, 2021, I publicly apologised to Ms Brittany Higgins about the comment about her to my staff on 15 February, 2021," Senator Reynolds said in a statement.
"I wish to further address that comment that I made. I did not mean it in the sense it may have been understood.
"Given that the comment was made public, which I never intended, I also want to retract it and unreservedly apologise to Brittany Higgins and acknowledge the hurt and distress it caused to her."
The terms of the agreement are confidential, but traditionally may also cover Ms Reynolds' legal costs which are likely to run to tens of thousands of dollars.
Senator Reynolds will also personally cover her own legal costs, under an agreement that taxpayers will not pay her personal legal costs over the matter.
It follows revelations that on the same day that Ms Higgins went public with an allegation that she was raped in Senator Reynolds' office that her former boss called her a "lying cow" in the open plan office in Parliament House.
The outburst shocked her own staff who complained that the remarks were not appropriate, a complaint that Senator Reynolds accepted.
However, she insisted that she was not referring to the allegation of rape but the account of how much support Ms Higgins was offered after the event.
Ms Higgins has previously stated she never received any formal counselling from a taxpayer-funded Employment Assistance Program after the alleged rape because they were booked up for weeks.
Instead, she turned to the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre for support and psychological counselling after the alleged assault.
It is the second unqualified apology that Senator Reynolds has offered to her former staffer in recent weeks after Ms Higgins story prompted outrage.
Previously, Senator Reynolds apologised to Ms Higgins over her decision to call a formal employment meeting with Ms Higgins a week after the alleged rape in the room where she said she was assaulted after work drinks in Canberra.
Lawyers for Ms Higgins demanded Senator Reynolds apologised a second time after it was reported that the minister called her a "lying cow".
Senator Reynolds remains on medical leave on the advice of her cardiologist. She is not expected to return to Parliament until May.
She went on medical leave in February the morning of a planned address to the National Press Club and the day after she was forced to correct the record after making a series of incorrect claims to the Senate over the allegations including that she had attended a meeting with police with Brittany Higgins.
On March 5, Senator Reynolds issued a statement saying Ms Higgins' lawyers had been in contact and referred to reporting in The Australian that "attributed some remarks to me regarding the very serious allegations made by my former staff member".
"I have never questioned Ms Higgins' account of her alleged sexual assault and have always sought to respect her agency in this matter," she said.
"In response to a letter from Ms Higgins' lawyers yesterday afternoon, discussions are now underway through our legal representatives in an effort to resolve this matter as soon as possible, with any resolution to include an apology.
"However, in the meantime, I want to express how deeply sorry I am for these remarks and for any hurt and distress they have caused."
Senator Reynolds had previously apologised to her staff for denigrating Ms Higgins and explained it has been a "stressful time".
A law firm representing Ms Higgins demanded from Senator Reynolds "an immediate and unequivocal public withdrawal of your comments and apology to our client for the hurt and distress caused".
Ms Higgins told news.com.au that the comments made by Minister Reynolds were "incredibly hurtful".
"I appreciate that it has been a stressful time but that sort of behaviour and language is never excusable," she said. "It's just further evidence of the toxic workplace culture that exists behind closed doors in Parliament House."
Speaking last Thursday, Mr Morrison called for compassion for the Defence Minister on the grounds she had a "stressful week" after it was revealed she had known for two years that an ex-staffer had alleged she was raped on her office couch.
Asked if she should resign, the Prime Minister said the "lying cow" comments were made in "private".
"She has deeply regretted them," he said. "She made them in a private office. She immediately apologised. It was soon after, I should say.
"She apologised to the staff about making what were inappropriate comments, long before it became public. And what is - I would just simply say to people - you know, it's been a very traumatic several weeks for many people.
"People directly involved by these events are our primary concern. But equally, there have been others who have been drawn into this. They're human beings."
He said people said things they sometimes regret.
"I'm sure that all of you have found yourself, at a time of frustration, perhaps saying things you regret," Mr Morrison said.
"And I would simply ask you, given the comment was made in a private place, that you offer the same generosity to how you perceive something you might have said, and perhaps apply the same standard to Linda Reynolds who, at the time, was under significant stress.
"She deeply regrets it. They were offensive remarks. She should never have made them. I don't condone them. But what matters is that we continue to address the substance of the issues here, as we are."
Originally published as Minister pays up over 'lying cow' slur