The finance minister, Katy Gallagher, has insisted she did not mislead parliament over her knowledge of Brittany Higgins’ rape allegation.
On Saturday she said that while she had been in contact with Higgins’ partner, David Sharaz, and was aware of some details of the story before it broke, she had not known the full allegations nor had she “made a decision to weaponise it”.
Leaked text messages from Higgins’ phone – sent by Sharaz on 11 February 2021 and published by News Corp papers – appear to show Gallagher knew about the allegations then.
Sharaz had texted: “Katy Gallagher messaged me. She’s angry and wants to help. She’s got the context. Says they knew something was wrong because they fired Bruce and not you. They avoided a scandal.”
The Coalition is arguing that means Gallagher may have misled parliament because, in a committee hearing in June, Gallagher denied any advance knowledge of the allegation.
In June 2021, the Liberal senator Linda Reynolds had suggested Gallagher knew about the story two weeks in advance and was planning to use it in some way.
Gallagher responded that “no one had any knowledge” before stories about the allegation came out on 15 February 2021.
Higgins alleged the rape occurred in Reynolds’ Parliament House office on the night of 22 March 2019. There have been ongoing questions about who knew what, and when.
Bruce Lehrmann has consistently denied the allegation. Last weekend, in his first television interview, he told the Seven Network it “simply didn’t happen”. He is suing various media outlets for defamation.
A trial was aborted after juror misconduct and plans for a retrial abandoned over concerns about Higgins’ mental health.
At the Labor women’s conference in Perth on Saturday, Gallagher said she was “aware of some allegations in the days leading up to the choice of Ms Brittany Higgins to make those allegations public” but “did not mislead the parliament”.
“I was responding to an assertion that was being made by minister Reynolds at the time that we had known about this for weeks and had made a decision to weaponise it,” she said.
“That is not true, it was never true.
“Mr Sharaz provided me with information … I did nothing with that information. And I was clear about that at the time. So some two years ago, when I spoke with senator Linda Reynolds about it, I said to her exactly that. That I had been made aware. I wasn’t aware of the full allegations that were made public when the interviews went to air.”
Pressed on what, exactly, she was aware of, Gallagher said she was aware “that there was going to be some public reporting that a young woman [was] making serious allegations about events that had occurred in a minister’s office [and they] were going to become public”.
“I was given some information, I did nothing with that information. I was clear about that with Senator Reynolds when she raised the issue in the committee,” she said.
“When she raised it, I explained what had happened but I categorically rejected … the assertion she was putting, which was that we had chosen to weaponise that information weeks ahead of being told about it.”
The foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, also says she did not know the full details of the rape allegation Higgins made against Lehrmann before they became public on 15 February 2021.
Also in Perth on Saturday morning, Wong told media she “did not know the full details of the allegations before the story became public”.
“There are others who did know a lot of detail, including Morrison government ministers, and they have still failed to account for what they did with that information,” she said.
“Serious allegations were made by Ms Higgins. Serious allegations were made by a Liberal staffer about an alleged rape which occurred metres from prime minister [Scott] Morrison’s office.
“I would make the point that, to this day, the Australian people do not know what Mr Morrison’s office knew and when they knew because the report he commissioned by his former chief of staff, Mr [Phil] Gaetjens, has never been made public.
“[Scott] Ryan, the former president of the Senate, made a statement to the Senate some time ago in which he indicated that a number of senators, including me, were aware of some details as early as 2020, when an anonymous complaint or anonymous complaints were made to presiding officers (POs) and Senate committees. Those details have never been made public, including by me.”
The Department of Parliamentary Services said it had told Ryan some details of the allegations on 27 March 2019.
Wong also asked people to consider the impact of the ongoing coverage on Higgins.
“I’d ask people to recall that when the [department of public prosecutions] discontinued the prosecution, they discussed, and I quote, that the trial represented ‘a significant and unacceptable risk’ to her life,” she said.
“In that context I would urge everybody commenting on this to reflect upon doing so responsibly … and for those who have published her private text messages without her consent, I would ask them to reflect on their responsibilities.”
Published: 2023-06-10 03:59:22