Scott Morrison has confirmed an investigation has recommenced into who in his office knew what, and when, about the rape allegation levelled by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins.
The investigation being undertaken by Phil Gaetjens, the secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, was suspended for several weeks after the Australian federal police advised it could problematic for their criminal investigation into the alleged sexual assault in early 2019.
But Morrison on Wednesday night said police had given the go-ahead for Gaetjens to resume his inquiries. The prime minister couldn’t say, however, when the process would conclude.
Asked on ABC TV whether all members of his parliamentary staff had been interviewed by Gaetjens, Morrison said: “I’m not conducting the investigation. That’s been conducted at arm’s length.”
“I know it’s commenced [again] but I have no knowledge of its conduct,” Morrison said. “Why would I? That would be inappropriate.”
Morrison on 17 February requested Gaetjens check communications between his parliamentary staff and Higgins because there were conflicting accounts about whether senior players in his office were aware of key details of the alleged assault before the ex-staffer went public on 15 February.
Morrison has said on a number of occasions his staff became aware of the rape allegation on 12 February 2021 when news.com.au approached the prime minister’s office for comment about Higgins’ account of events in Parliament House in March 2019.
Higgins alleges she was raped by a colleague on a couch in the parliamentary office of the then-defence industry minister, Linda Reynolds. Reynolds employed both Higgins and the alleged perpetrator of the assault at the time.
No one has been arrested and no charges have been laid.
Morrison says members of his office only became aware of the allegation in February 2021 but Higgins recalls members of his staff checking in with her before she went public with her account earlier this year.
Morrison has said repeatedly he only became aware of the alleged assault on 15 February after the story was published by news.com.au
The prime minister was pressed again on Wednesday night how it was possible that several senior figures in the government knew about the events while he remained unaware.
Morrison said colleagues did not tell him or his office about the alleged assault on privacy grounds. He told the ABC: “They were matters that were told to them in confidence and they didn’t seek to breach those confidences.”
A separate inquiry is also underway into whether or not members of Morrison’s office backgrounded against Higgins or her loved ones.
That inquiry is being carried out by Morrison’s chief of staff, John Kunkel, after Higgins made a formal complaint, asking for an investigation into what was said to journalists.
Higgins told Kunkel in an email sent on 25 March that she was “made aware by numerous journalists about the backgrounding that was happening against my partner”.
Morrison said on Wednesday night that Kunkel’s inquiries were ongoing. The prime minister said his chief of staff would meet shortly with Higgins to get her account of what had occurred.