CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses an alleged sexual assault.
Brittany Higgins claims Defence Minister Linda Reynolds made her think there would be “problems” if she went to police when they met to discuss the allegation that she had been raped in Parliament House.
The trial against Bruce Lehrmann, who is accused of sexually assaulting her on a lounge in Ms Reynolds’s office on 23 March 2019, began in the ACT Supreme Court earlier this week.
Ms Higgins testified in person on Thursday (6 October) and told jurors she met Ms Reynolds and her chief of staff Fiona Brown to discuss the allegations on 1 April 2019.
The meeting was held in the same office where she alleges she was raped.
“I was quite panicked just on the basis that I was in the room with the couch, so the words were a little lost,” she said.
She said there was some empathy directed to her, and Ms Reynolds did apologise, but she said it then became a conversation about the upcoming 2019 election.
“They stated that they were concerned about me going to the police. They stated they wanted to know if I went to the police and they made reference to the election,” she claimed.
“My interpretation of that was that if I raised it with police, there was going to be problems and they wanted to be included and informed.”
Ms Higgins said that having the meeting in the same room with the lounge she alleged she was raped on all seemed “really off” and a “scare tactic”.
In court, she was also asked about texts she sent to her ex-boyfriend Ben Dillaway in the days after the alleged assault, including: “The only thing I really want is for this to not get out and become public knowledge.”
She told the court: “I didn’t want it to turn into a media frenzy, I wanted to find a way to get to police and I didn’t want it to turn into this.”
At the start of the day, jurors heard the audio recording of when Mr Lehrmann, whom Ms Higgins described as “territorial” when she was talking about Parliament House culture, called security to ask to be let into Parliament House early in the morning of the alleged assault.
“Hey mate, Bruce Lehrmann here with Minister Linda Reynolds. I’m here to pick up some documents. I’ve forgotten my pass,” he said.
Ms Higgins said she didn’t recall that particular conversation but remembered him saying something along those lines, like that he needed to pick up some paperwork, while they were travelling to the building in a taxi after their night out drinking.
“I was kind of out of it … I didn’t go, why do you need that at 2 am?” she said.
The pair were allowed in and closed-circuit television footage (CCTV) showed them checking into a security desk with two guards. It was 1:42 am on 23 March 2019.
Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold SC asked what her level of intoxication was during this interaction with security.
“I don’t remember any of this, so it was very high,” she said.
She also began to cry in court and said it was only the second time she had seen the footage.
The CCTV showed her struggling to put on her shoes until she gave up and walked barefoot with Mr Lehrmann and a guard down the corridor to Ms Reynolds’ office, where the guard let them in at 1:48 am before walking away back down the hallway.
Ms Higgins reportedly fell asleep on a lounge inside the office. Mr Drumgold asked her what happened when she woke up due to a pain in her knee to allegedly find Mr Lehrmann raping her.
“I was like a prop, pinned down into that corner,” was how she described being on the lounge.
Mr Lehrmann was seen walking back to the security desk at 2:33 am. Ms Higgins walked past it at 10.01 am.
She was shown a photo taken a week afterwards – which was the day before Budget – of an alleged bruise to her leg, which she said she assumed she received during the alleged assault.
More texts she sent to Mr Dillaway, a former media adviser to her one-time boss Minister Steven Ciobo, on 26 March 2019 were read out to her.
“I was barely lucid. I really don’t feel like it was consensual at all. I just think if he thought it was okay, why would he just leave me there like that,” she texted.
Ms Higgins said due to the security breach of her and Mr Lehrmann going into Parliament House late at night she had to speak to Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers on 1 April 2019, the same day she had the meeting with Ms Reynolds.
The AFP asked her about the alleged rape and referred her to officers from the sexual assault unit. These officers met her on 8 April and discussed what organising a formal statement would look like in the face of the upcoming election which she knew Prime Minister Scott Morrison was about to call.
She alleged she felt pressure not to pursue the matter at that time.
“It became really apparent that it was my job on the line, so I toed the party line and decided not to proceed with it at that time,” she claimed.
Ms Higgins, who had gone to Perth during the election campaign to work with Ms Reynolds, said her boss’s relationship with her deteriorated.
“I felt like she did not like being around me, based on the fact of how little she would have me on the road with her as a media adviser,” she said.
“I understood that was a direct result of all of this.”
Ms Higgins was also asked about the long, white cocktail dress she had worn on the night of 23 March 2019. She said she kept it in a bag under her bed for six months, untouched and uncleaned.
“I just had it there,” she said.
She said she didn’t know if she could proceed with her complaint without losing her job due to party issues and when it was clear she couldn’t maintain her career, she “very symbolically washed the dress”, wore it once then eventually handed it to police about two years after the alleged incident.
But in cross-examination, Mr Lehrmann’s barrister Steven Whybrow showed her a photo of her wearing the dress at a Liberal Party dinner in Perth, a photo taken much earlier than the six months she originally estimated it had sat untouched.
She admitted she had been wrong with her time estimate but said it had still only been worn just once more.
“Why did you take that dress to Perth?” Mr Whybrow asked.
“It was an empowerment thing,” she said.
Mr Lehrmann has pleaded not guilty to a charge of sexual intercourse without consent. The trial is held before Chief Justice Lucy McCallum.