Gaetjens puts PMO inquiry on hold as Higgins sexual assault case nears

Ian Bushnell 6 September 2021 9
Australian Parliament House

Former Liberal staff Brittany Higgins alleges she was raped at Parliament House in March 2019. Photo: File.

An inquiry into who in the Prime Minister’s Office had knowledge of the alleged sexual assault of former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins in March 2019 has been put on hold as the ACT Magistrates Court prepares to hear legal proceedings on 16 September.

Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Phil Gaetjens was asked by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in February this year to undertake the inquiry, which also sought to discover when and how that knowledge was acquired.

But Mr Gaetjens issued a statement on Monday (30 August) saying that he had suspended the inquiry on legal advice.

Earlier this year, Ms Higgins alleged she was raped by a colleague at Parliament House in the office of federal government minister Linda Reynolds.

The ACT Director of Public Prosecutions has charged a 26-year-old Queensland man. He is due to face court on 16 September.

Mr Gaetjens said that in late March 2021, Ms Higgins had indicated she wished to provide input to the inquiry.

But on 26 August it was reported that the ACT DPP Shane Drumgold considered that continuing the inquiry could prejudice the criminal proceedings now in progress.

“My Department separately confirmed those views with Mr Drumgold and I sought legal advice on the matter on the same day,” Mr Gaetjens said.

“On the basis of that legal advice received on 27 August 2021, I have suspended my inquiry until the conclusion of the criminal trial. This is to ensure that the inquiry can have no adverse impact on the criminal prosecution.”

Mr Gaetjens stressed that his decision was solely based on legal advice.

“The action I have taken is strictly in response to the legal advice I have received and does not relate to any of the content of the inquiry,” he said.

“No inferences in relation to that content can be drawn from the legal advice nor my decision to suspend the inquiry.”

READ ALSO: Auditor-General to raise bar on government grants with ethics scrutiny

Mr Gaetjen’s inquiry is one of a number to stem from Ms Higgins’ revelations.

Deputy Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Stephanie Foster looked at what support is available to political staffers and what processes are in place for dealing with complaints.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins is investigating workplace culture at Parliament House and is due to report in November.

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9 Responses to Gaetjens puts PMO inquiry on hold as Higgins sexual assault case nears
jwinston jwinston 8:19 am 04 Sep 21

Has Mr Gaetjens got the relevant qualifications to conduct an investigation?

54-11 54-11 3:33 pm 02 Sep 21

He was never going to find anything, anyway, if he fell over it.

Stephen Saunders Stephen Saunders 1:47 pm 02 Sep 21

One can only have one hope left for the “honour” of Mr Gaetjens. If Labor does get in, he walks, not waiting for the umpire.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 12:43 pm 02 Sep 21

Why was the word “alleged” omitted from the headline?

    Frank Booth Frank Booth 4:21 pm 02 Sep 21

    The matter is a sexual.assault case by definition. There are allegations relating to this case. Alleged does not need to be included in the headline.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 12:11 pm 03 Sep 21

    So, if I am summonsed to be on the jury I can seek exemption because according to you the person arrested is already guilty?

    J D J D 2:40 pm 05 Sep 21

    Best that you seek to be excused upon the grounds that Frank couldn’t explain it to you simply enough, so it is obviusly too complicated.

    RuthB RuthB 4:12 pm 06 Sep 21

    The case is a fact.

    From the moment the police send their brief of evidence to the DPP the case is a fact. Once the DPP decide to prosecute an alleged offender, the case is a fact.
    The statement made to the police and which is being presented to the court is the allegation. The court will decide whether the allegation is or is not a fact, but whatever the court decides, the case will always remain a fact.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 5:01 pm 06 Sep 21

    It is a fact then that the headline does not have the word alleged included?

    Thank you.

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