Former Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has broken her two-year silence, saying she has “a very different story” to tell about the Brittany Higgins rape scandal.
The former Liberal cabinet minister was Ms Higgins’ boss when the political staffer alleges she was raped in Parliament House in 2019.
In a four-hour interview with The Weekend Australian, Senator Reynolds claimed to be the victim of a “political hit job” designed to bring down both her and the former Morrison government.
Senator Reynolds accused Labor of using Ms Higgins’ rape allegation to orchestrate a campaign against her “to the point where I broke”.
“What happened should be of concern to all Australians, because this was clearly a political hit job on the government of the day to bring down the defence minister,” Senator Reynolds told The Weekend Australian.
“Brittany Higgins, I believe, was used in this situation in a way that should only ever have been an issue for the police and the justice system.”
Senator Reynolds said when Ms Higgins’ story first broke in the media, the facts did not match her recollection of what had happened behind the scenes after the alleged incident in Parliament House.
‘Didn’t match with my recollection’
She said Ms Higgins had a right to tell her story, even though “it didn’t match with my recollection of events and my story”.
“It doesn’t invalidate her right to tell her story, which she has,” she said.
The Weekend Australian reports that an internal email “has cast fresh doubt” on claims Senator Reynolds failed to support Ms Higgins in the aftermath of the alleged rape, or properly investigate the incident.
The newspaper writes that Senator Reynolds met with Ms Higgins after the incident on April 1, 2019, but her employee “did not at any point” mention rape or assault.
Senator Reynolds claims she suggested Ms Higgins should speak to police, and her chief of staff, Fiona Brown, took Ms Higgins to Australian Federal Police officers stationed in the Parliament building.
“Brittany did that on the Monday (April 1), but she came back to me and said that, you know, it was helpful but ‘I’m not gonna pursue it further’,” Senator Reynolds said.
“So I said, ‘Okay, well, whatever you need’.”
The Weekend Australian writes that three days later the AFP advised her that Ms Higgins would make a complaint.
Senator Reynolds said she believed police were following up the complaint, and said she offered Ms Higgins support and invited her to keep working for her after the election.
“She declined. She thanked me for being a great boss. She gave me flowers, and then she went to Michaelia Cash’s office, on a promotion,” Senator Reynolds said.
Two years later
Senator Reynolds said two years later she became aware something was afoot two weeks before the bombshell interview on The Project.
Senator Reynolds said she was given a heads-up about what was about to unfold by a friend in the Labor party, the late senator Kimberley Kitching.
Senator Reynolds said: “She said, ‘Linda, I’ve got something to tell you. I’m so aghast. We (Labor) know about an incident that happened in your office two years ago. We’ve got it and it’s going to be weaponised’.
“And that was the word she used: ‘Weaponised’. So she didn’t use Brittany’s name but obviously I knew what she was talking about.
“I said, ‘What? Why would you do that to a young woman? Why would you do that?’. Kimberly agreed. She said, ‘I’m so sorry’,” Senator Reynolds claims.
“This was clearly, clearly, a very well-orchestrated political hit to take down the minister of the defence of the day, and also the government,” she said.
“Brittany’s story was perfect for the MeToo movement and for those of my colleagues in the Senate who were trying to bring down the government.”
Senator Reynolds said Labor senators “just kept at me asking me questions day after day, essentially saying that I covered up the rape of a young woman”.
“And that was one of the most distressing and confronting things in your workplace, having your colleagues not only in your workplace, but in front of the entire nation, accusing you day after day of covering up the rape of a woman.”
The Weekend Australian quoted a joint statement from Senators Penny Wong and Katy Gallagher which said: “The record shows that Senator Wong and Senator Gallagher asked reasonable questions of the then Morrison government about how they responded to those serious allegations.
“Many of these questions remain unanswered. These new claims from Senator Reynolds are completely rejected and reveal a deep lack of respect for the autonomy of her former staff member who made these allegations.”
The Project interview
Senator Reynolds recounted watching The Project interview in her office with her staff.
“It was just like a bomb went off in my head. It was like, ‘What is, what is Lisa saying?’ What is this conversation about me and about Fiona?” she told The Australian.
“Because almost everything that was said did not accord with my recollection of what had happened two years previously.
“I actually couldn’t believe what I was hearing and seeing. It was just such a shock. Being accused of covering up the rape of a young woman for political purposes. It was like a stake through my heart.
Regarding journalist Lisa Wilkinson’s media interview, Senator Reynolds said: “I looked at (the interview) and thought: ‘Who on Earth would put a clearly distressed young woman on national TV talking about an issue before she raised it with the police?’
“But as Brittany Higgins has said: it became not about her, but about journalists jockeying for awards and the MeToo movement.
“What was The Project thinking? Putting a woman as distressed as Brittany Higgins was on national TV before she’d even talked to the police again. Putting her outside Parliament House in front of thousands of people. I mean, how is that not exploitation?”
Senator Reynolds said her “lying cow” comment, which was revealed in the media after Ms Higgins went public, had been in reference to claims she had failed to support her staffer.
Senator Reynolds was heard making the slur in an open-plan area of her parliamentary office
Senator Reynolds said she paid damages to Ms Higgins out of her own pocket “for it to go away”.
“I was in no state to defend myself.”
“It’s been the hardest two years of my life, without question,” said Senator Reynolds.
“I haven’t been able to speak and my chief of staff and others haven’t been able to tell their story. And we have a very different story.”
At one point, as her health was also failing, Senator Reynolds said she collapsed on the bathroom floor, “broken, sobbing and inconsolable”.