‘Hollow’: PM blasted in scathing attack

Penny Wong has launched a scathing attack on Scott Morrison, accusing the PM of being a part of the cover up in the case of an alleged rape.

Labor frontbencher Penny Wong has launched a scathing attack on Scott Morrison and the government, accusing the Prime Minister of being a part of the cover up in the case of the alleged rape of a former staffer.

Brittany Higgins claims she was raped by a male colleague in March 2019. Ms Higgins was working for Senator Linda Reynolds when she was allegedly raped by another Liberal staffer in her boss’s office at Parliament House after a night out.

Ms Higgins claims she was forced to choose between her job and seeking justice.

Her boss, then-Defence Industry Minister Linda Reynolds, spoke with Ms Higgins about the alleged incident but did not report it to the Prime Minister, who says he retains full confidence in Senator Reynolds.

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Mr Morrison publicly apologised to Ms Higgins last Tuesday over the way the incident was initially handled, before announcing he would establish an investigation into workplace culture at Parliament House.

Mr Morrison last Tuesday told Parliament that his office first heard about the claims on February 12, but he only found out three days later.

Mr Morrison said the claims were deeply distressing and he had sought to be as “open and honest” as he could.

“I have told you everything I know about this matter,” he said.

But on Monday, Labor’s Penny Wong made a series of pointed statements towards the PM in the Senate, arguing there has been no accountability and that his words “ring hollow”.

“We know that at best Mr Morrison leads a government where the culture is don’t ask, don’t tell when it comes to serious criminal allegations, and at worst Mr Morrison himself is part of the cover-up,” she told the Senate.

“Mr Morrison is arguably the most powerful person in the land … his actions and inactions shape the culture.

“He said he was angry about being left in the dark but there have been no consequences for those he claims left him in the dark.”

It comes after a fourth former Liberal staffer accused the man who Ms Higgins said assaulted her of making unwelcome advances in a bar, sliding his hand up her legs and stroking her thighs.

News.com.au has previously spoken to the woman about the claims that were published Monday by the ABC’s Four Corners.

She does not claim to have been sexually assaulted by the man but has now made a statement to the Australian Federal Police in case her experiences are useful in the investigation.

After attending drinks in 2017 at Canberra’s Public Bar, she said she found herself wedged in a booth at the bar with the man who she barely knew and he shoved his hand under the table and stroked her thigh.

The woman, who was significantly older than the Liberal staffer, said it was completely uninvited and she was so shocked she left the bar without eating her dinner.

Senator Reynolds has apologised for her handling of Ms Higgins’ allegations, breaking down while speaking about it in parliament last week.

On Monday, Senator Reynolds defended her decision to keep the Prime Minister in the dark over the alleged rape citing Ms Higgins’ privacy.

She then refused to answer a string of questions over what she knew and when she learned it insisting she was protecting private conversations.

“The reason for that, as I have consistently said here in this chamber, was that it was not my story to tell,’’ she said.

“It never was. I, at all times, took my lead from Brittany Higgins, in terms of what support she needed and who was to know about this and who was not. The advice is, whether it’s from 1800 RESPECT or whether it’s from others, that you always take the lead of the individual, and that is what I did.”

But Ms Higgins told news.com.au that she would prefer answers.

Last week, news.com.au broke the story about the then-24-year-old’s alleged sexual assault at Parliament House, after a night drinking with colleagues in March 2019.

Ms Higgins on Friday announced she had re-engaged with AFP and will proceed with a formal complaint regarding the crime committed against her.

“I want a comprehensive police investigation into what happened to me on 22/23 March 2019 and for my perpetrator to face the full force of the law,” she said in a statement.

“I am determined to drive significant reform in the way the Australian parliament handles issues of this nature and treats ministerial and parliamentary staff more generally.

“I was failed repeatedly, but I now have my voice, and I am determined to use to ensure that this is never allowed to happen to another member of staff again.”

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