PM responds to Brittany's explosive claim

 

The Prime Minister's Office will investigate claims his staffers spread disparaging information about Brittany Higgins' partner to journalists, after the former Liberal staffer filed a formal complaint over the allegation.

Ms Higgins, who alleged she was raped in a ministerial office within Parliament House in 2019, has written to the Prime Minister's chief of staff John Kunkel over claims the Prime Minister's Office's (PMO) media team backgrounded journalists against her partner.

She has lodged a formal complaint over the allegation, which she said had been raised with her by multiple journalists from various news outlets.

In the days after her story was first reported by news.com.au, Ms Higgins said: "I was made aware by numerous journalists about the backgrounding that was happening against my partner."

Brittany Higgins has filed a formal complaint over allegations the Prime Minister’s staff spread negative information about her partner. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage Source: News Corp Australia
Brittany Higgins has filed a formal complaint over allegations the Prime Minister’s staff spread negative information about her partner. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage Source: News Corp Australia

"To my knowledge, this was being done by staff within the Prime Minister's media team."

Mr Morrison confirmed in question time on Thursday he had received the letter, and would respond to Ms Higgins "in the course of today".

"But separate to that … my chief of staff received confidential information … from a primary and direct source regarding these matters," he said.

"In response to and based on that information, I have asked my chief of staff to commence a process with advice from the Department of Finance for dealing with complaints against staff members.

"We will follow that processing dealing with that matter."

It comes hours after Mr Morrison refused to rule out that his staff had backgrounded against Ms Higgins's partner but said "no one" had raised the concerns with his chief of staff.

"There has been no one in the gallery, 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 ABC Radio.

"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."

Ms Higgins raised the claim when she addressed thousands of protesters gathered outside Parliament House for the March 4 Justice protests earlier this month.

"I watched as the Prime Minister of Australia publicly apologised to me through the media, while privately his team actively discredited and undermined my loved ones," she said.

 

Ms Higgins raised the allegation while speaking to thousands of protesters outside Parliament House. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gary RamageSource:News Corp Australia
Ms Higgins raised the allegation while speaking to thousands of protesters outside Parliament House. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gary RamageSource:News Corp Australia

Labor has repeatedly pressed Mr Morrison on the allegation during question time, asking whether he had spoken to his staff to ascertain whether it was true.

Mr Morrison did not answer the question directly on March 15 - instead saying he had "no knowledge of that and I would never instruct that"- and has since referred all follow-ups to that answer.

During Wednesday's question time, Labor frontbencher Catherine King raised the matter again to no avail.

"I ask the Prime Minister for the 13th time: Has the Prime Minister asked his staff if they sought to undermine Brittany Higgins' loved ones?" she asked.

"On this matter, as it's been raised, as the member has referred to in previous questions, my answer is the same as on those occasions and I have nothing to further add," Mr Morrison replied.

The allegation was first raised publicly by Channel 10 chief political editor Peter van Onselen in February when he accused the PMO of engaging in a "grubby" campaign against Ms Higgins's partner.

"The Prime Minister's office has been backgrounding that her now partner has a vendetta, or a gripe might be the better way to put it, against the government because of him being a former public servant," van Onselen told ABC radio.

NCA NewsWire did not receive any negative briefing about Ms Higgins's partner but is aware of allegations of briefings to other journalists.

Ms Higgins said she felt pressured by the government to choose between her job and pursuing a complaint over the alleged rape in 2019.

Mr Morrison revealed he had not been in direct contact with Ms Higgins since she went public but insisted the public apology he offered her was sincere.

Brittany Higgins says she will also give evidence to Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Phil Gaetjens once his review resumes. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gary RamageSource:News Corp Australia
Brittany Higgins says she will also give evidence to Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Phil Gaetjens once his review resumes. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gary RamageSource:News Corp Australia

"I didn't know Brittany when she worked here. I know she was in the building, just like there are large numbers of people who work here," he said.

But he said her job was still available if she wished to rejoin the government.

"That offer has been there … She did a great job when she was working for the Coalition, and I thank her for all the great work she did," he said.

"I can understand that why she wanted to leave and particularly because of the physical building that she was working in.

"One of the more traumatic … experiences that she relayed was just the sheer physical act of coming into this building was just too much. I totally understand that."

Ms Higgins also confirmed she wanted to give evidence to an inquiry - run by Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Phil Gaetjens - into the government's handling of her allegation.

"It is my express desire to present my evidence to Mr Gaetjens at the appropriate time once the review recommences," she wrote.

The Gaetjens review was suspended on March 9 over fears it could jeopardise a criminal probe under way into the alleged rape.

Mr Morrison has denied misleading parliament by answering questions on the investigation without revealing its suspension.

NCA NewsWire has approached the Prime Minister's office for comment.

 

 

 

 

Brittany Higgins has filed a formal complaint with Scott Morrison's chief of staff over claims his staff briefed against her partner, which the prime minister has refused to confirm.

Ms Higgins, who alleged she was raped in a ministerial office within Parliament House in 2019, has written to the PM's chief of staff John Kunkel over claims the PMO's media team backgrounded against her partner.

She has lodged a formal complaint over the allegation, which she said had been raised with her by multiple journalists from various news outlets.

"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 against my partner," it read.

"To my knowledge, this was being done by staff within the Prime Minister's media team."

It comes after the Prime Minister refused on Thursday to rule out his staff backgrounding against Ms Higgins' partner, but said "no one" had raised the concerns with his chief of staff.

"There has been no one in the gallery, 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 ABC Radio.

"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."

More to come

Originally published as Higgins launches formal complaint



COLOUR POP: New hair care collection celebrates diversity

Premium Content COLOUR POP: New hair care collection celebrates diversity

The Goreng Goreng artist who grew up in Bundaberg has teamed up with a leading...

ROAD CLOSURE: Road in Gin Gin closed due to crash

Premium Content ROAD CLOSURE: Road in Gin Gin closed due to crash

The road is expected to remain closed until at least midday after a crash.

NEW ROLE: $2 billion investment sees more support for region

Premium Content NEW ROLE: $2 billion investment sees more support for region

A Bundaberg local has been selected as NBN’s new business lead for Wide Bay and...