Why PM didn’t know about alleged rape
Scott Morrison has faced a barrage of questions over whether a “don’t ask, don’t tell’’ approach drove the Defence Minister Linda Reynolds’ decision to keep silent over a police investigation into a staffer being allegedly raped in her office.
The Prime Minister has declared today he was “not happy” to learn that Senator Reynolds learned nearly two years ago that Australian Federal Police were investigating a potential sexual assault but never told him.
The AFP called her to tell her of the investigation into an alleged sexual assault and she had met with the complainant, her staffer Brittany Higgins.
At a press conference this morning, the Prime Minister was asked, “Do you have some sort of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy? Why did you not know until recently that there was an alleged sexual assault?.”
In response, he said he was “not happy” that he had not been told earlier.
“That is a very valid question and I can assure you that there is no such policy and I’m not happy about the fact that it was not brought to my attention, and I can assure you people know that,’’ he said.
“I can assure you people know that.”
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Mr Morrison said the acting chief of staff in Senator Reynolds’ office at the time now works in his office.
But he said the involvement of others in his office including chief of staff John Kunkel who attended Senator Reynolds’ office to deal with the immediate aftermath was around the issue of a security incident because staff had accessed the office after hours, not an alleged rape. Those allegations came later.
“And the initial incident which was, to the best of our knowledge, at that point, was a security incident, was dealt with swiftly,’’ he said.
“Let’s not forget there’s an alleged perpetrator here. There’s an alleged perpetrator. And I do not want us to lose focus on the fact of the justice issue here that needs to be addressed. That this alleged perpetrator has undertaken these things and you’ve all heard the accounts, but it’s a matter for a proper investigation to deal with that. Then, ultimately, accountability rests with those who seek to perpetrate these acts.”
This afternoon, the Prime Minister faced more questions about his claim he did not know about the matter until recent days stressing people know he wants to be told in the future.
“People know. People know. And they should know and these are issues that I would hope would come to my attention. And that is one of the many things that I’ve asked the deputy secretary of the PM&C to look at as we work through the issue that has to be worked throughment and we want to make sure that those systems are up to the standard,’’ he said.
“I know that Minister Reynolds expressed that and it was her wish that the matter be taken forward for investigation. But ultimately, that was a choice made at the time,’’ he said.
Asked, “Why didn’t the minister tell you, Prime Minister?,” the PM replied that the Defence Minister would have more to say in the Senate.
“I understand that Minister Reynolds will say something further about this. But I understand that there was a judgment made about the balance of protecting Britney’s privacy at the time and a judgment was made on that basis,’’ he said.
“That judgment can certainly be commented on and be judged, but that was my understanding of who occurred at that time. I want to stress again, that this awful incident, this terrible incident … Those who were around Brittany were endeavouring to help her. As I said, with the passage of time, clearly that was not effective. And I accept that.”
Asked the “exact time that your office knew about this alleged rape” the Prime Minister said his understanding is that that precise matter was within the last couple of weeks.
Mr Morrison refused to answer questions over whether “heads will roll” over the scandal replying, “I’ve answered the question, thanks.”
In the Senate, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds offered an “unreserved apology” over the handling of the rape allegations to Brittany Higgins.
But Senator Reynolds has refused to say whether she has had ongoing contact with the male Liberal staffer after the incident.
She said his employment was terminated, not over any allegations of sexual assault but over the security breach.
“I unreservedly apologise to Brittany Higgins. Her trauma and distress were there for all to see.
“We have to do better.”
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Originally published as Why PM didn’t know about alleged rape