In a statement to the Senate this afternoon, Finance Minister Senator Katy Gallagher has strenuously rejected allegations that she misled the Senate over whether she knew about and ‘weaponised’ allegations of Brittany Higgins’ sexual assault before they were made public.
On the opening day of a two-week parliamentary sitting period, Senator Gallagher took the opportunity to get on the front foot of the issue which came up last week after a series of texts between Ms Higgins and her partner David Sharaz were leaked and published in The Australian.
The texts revealed that Senator Gallagher – who at the time of the assault and its public disclosure in February 2021 was in opposition – had been informed by Mr Sharaz that Ms Higgins was going to go public and was subsequently given a transcript of the interview with Channel 10 before it went to air.
“I have always acted ethically and with basic human decency on all matters related to Ms Higgins,” Senator Gallagher said in her statement. “And I will continue to do so.”
She said she rejected the allegations made by Coalition members that she had misled the Senate in early 2021 when she denied she had been told of the allegations before they became public.
“At Senate Estimates on June 4, 2021, the then Minister for Defence, Senator Reynolds, said: ‘I know where this started …’ She went on to say: ‘I was told by one of your senators two weeks before about what you were intending to do with the story in my office. Two weeks before’.”
Senator Gallagher said: “I was shocked at the assertion made by Senator Reynolds with the clear implication that I was responsible or had some involvement with making that story public. That was not true. It was never true, and I responded to that allegation by saying no one had any knowledge.”
Senator Gallagher said she had discussed the matter with Senators Reynolds and Penny Wong in a private meeting and told her that she had been given a “heads up about the allegations in the days before they became public”.
Senator Reynolds had apparently accepted her explanation, telling Senate Estimates later that evening that “they’ve assured me they were not involved in that matter becoming public. I accept their assurance”.
Senator Gallagher said the allegations made by Ms Higgins were made on her “own terms” and that while she was provided with the information in the days prior to the allegations being aired, she said she was asked to keep it to herself, and she “did nothing with that information. Absolutely nothing”.
“I was not involved in any way with the story that went to air on the night or was reported online that morning. I was in no way involved with the timing in which this story was published or aired.
“I did nothing differently on this occasion compared to hundreds of other times that people have reached out to me in my time as a politician and asked me to keep their information private,” she said, “including women seeking support over alleged sexual assaults, violence, and harassment.”
Senator Gallagher stressed that the Coalition had known about Ms Higgins’ allegations for two years and “did nothing to make changes or improve culture and safety in the workplace where this incident occurred”.
She said Ms Higgins had felt “significantly let down” by the then government following her reporting the incident.
“It should have been met with compassion and support and it wasn’t.”
She said the former government still had questions to answer about the incident, including why it was two years before it was made public, what actions they took after it was made public, who they shared this information with, and why the “secret Gaetjens Report, commissioned by former Prime Minister Mr Scott Morrison … still hasn’t seen the light of day”.
“The response shouldn’t have been calculated by the political needs of the Coalition Government,” she said.
“It does seem strange to me that I am providing a statement to the Senate, but those that were much closer to the events in 2019 have not done so.”
Senator Gallagher said she had now made her position clear to the Senate and that she takes her “responsibilities as a Senator for the ACT seriously and [I] act with integrity at all times”.
“This integrity is something I have displayed throughout my career and through my response to Ms Higgins’ rape allegations.”