Before appearing on Channel 10’s The Project that night, news.com.au’s national political editor Samantha Maiden broke Brittany Higgins’ story on February 15, 2021.
Higgins said she was “raped at Parliament House in Defence Minister Linda Reynolds’ ministerial office by a colleague, and claims she felt forced to choose between reporting it to the police or keeping her job” in the initial article.
Her idea that the claimed occurrence was handled as a political matter to be controlled was as much the story as the actual attack.
After the scandal broke, everyone treated Higgins as a young lady whose claims and well-being were important.
Then-prime minister Scott Morrison responded to the opening question in parliament that day by saying his government takes “all such matters, all matters of workplace safety, very, very seriously”.
Every workplace should be safe. Reports today are heartbreaking. Police are investigating. Ms Higgins’ wishes were always sought and respected. The administration has always followed this crucial best-practice approach of empowering Ms Higgins.”
Lidia Thorpe was treated differently this week. Thorpe also alleged Parliament House mistreatment. Several males, including Liberal senator David Van, harassed and abused her.
Many have noted that we seem to have regressed on these concerns.
“It was horrible,” Thorpe said Friday morning. I perpetrated. I was demonized… That day, media piled on. The media took note when a white lady came up and said, “yeah, this happened to me, too.”
Only when former Liberal senator Amanda Stoker and others spoke to Opposition Leader Peter Dutton did he take Van’s concerns seriously. Dutton told Ray Hadley on Friday morning that Thorpe’s claims had not caused him to talk to her.
I haven’t talked to Lidia Thorpe. Ray, Lidia Thorpe’s Senate contribution didn’t sway me. I was informed of more charges, but Senator Thorpe didn’t identify anyone.
Even when a seemingly reliable source corroborated Van’s behavior and Dutton felt prompted to dismiss him from the party room, he could not resist besmirching Thorpe, whose he said had sullied parliament.
“Senator Thorpe—and it’s been well documented in the papers, her conduct inside and outside the chamber—does need to seek support… respecting her… Senator Thorpe’s troubles and behavior have been well documented.
She won’t file a police report. She wants the issue resolved. It’s hard to besmirch everyone without information. That’s hard to examine and resolve.”
So despite an evidently broad series of charges against one of his senators, significant enough for him to act upon, the opposition leader still decided it was OK to publicly disparage a senator who had been victimized.
It’s no surprise that many people have said this week that we seem to have regressed on these problems.
Allegations in the media or parliament are problematic. The legal system presumes the assailant is innocent if they are accused of a crime.
Higgins’ colleague Bruce Lehrmann was charged. He vehemently denied. Juror misbehavior caused a mistrial.
Van stated Friday that he was “utterly shattered by the events of the past days and stunned that my good reputation can be so wantonly savaged without due process or accountability”.
However, Higgins’ and Thorpe’s concerns showed that they didn’t think Parliament House or politics would take them seriously.
Two aspects of the February 2021 story stand out over the last two weeks.
“Despite reporting the incident to the Australian Federal Police within days of it occurring, Ms Higgins ultimately chose not to make a formal complaint, a decision she said was driven by her desire at the time to protect the Liberal Party and her ‘dream job’ on the eve of th
The second was that Ms. Higgins “hoped telling her story would drive change in the parliamentary work culture”.
“What happened to me isn’t remarkable. It’s frequent. It’s heartbreaking and I think about it every day, but the only thing that made people care was where and who it occurred to. Nobody cared about me. The party mattered.”
In recent weeks, media outlets and politicians have portrayed Higgins as someone running a primarily political campaign to damage the former government, aided and abetted by Labor, with the clear implication that she was rewarded for this with an exceptionally large compensation payout.
The Australian released Higgins’ text conversations, some of which were subpoenaed for the criminal prosecution but not shown in court. Texts between Higgins and myself were leaked 14 months after her initial stories.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus warned parliament this week that such disclosures may be contempt of court.
The leaks have led the Coalition to pursue Labor ministers, notably Finance Minister Katy Gallagher, on charges that she illegally utilized previous knowledge of the allegations in the political debate that followed Higgins’ revelations.
Gallagher said she valued classified briefings. Nothing indicates she didn’t.
The political onslaught backfired on a party that appeared to have checked one of its members.
However, all such claims hurt the accused.
“We are questioned,” Lidia Thorpe said Friday. It’s not safe to rationalize what happened to us.
Brittany Higgins, Finance Minister Katy Gallagher.