Third woman accuses ex-Liberal staffer of sexual assault

A third woman has claimed she was sexually assaulted by the same former Liberal staffer accused of the 2019 rape of Brittany Higgins in the ministerial wing of Parliament House.

The fallout from the alleged rape of Ms Higgins in 2019 has dominated political discussion and parliamentary question time for a week since the news first broke on Monday, February 15.

The new complainant, a Liberal Party volunteer who was barely out of school at the time, told The Australian that she was assaulted after a night drinking with the man.

She said he offered to “look after her” at his hotel just around the corner, after buying her rounds of double strength vodkas and three tequila shots.

She alleges that she woke up with her blouse buttons opened and her jeans pushed down and the staffer “lying on top of me”, and later discovered that she was bleeding after fleeing the room.

“I believe his actions on the night of 29 June and the morning of 30 June constitute sexual assault, because he performed or tried to perform sexual acts on me whilst I was severely intoxicated and unable to provide valid and informed consent,’’ she said.

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The Australian newspaper reports that the third complainant has signed a statutory declaration to support her allegations. She had never had sex before the alleged attack.

“I was severely embarrassed about it and felt dirty and ashamed and I didn’t want to tell anyone,’’ she told the newspaper.

“Hearing Brittany Higgins’ story, it was so eerily similar, it made me think this person has a pattern of behaviour.’’

The Weekend Australian reported on Saturday that a second former Liberal staffer also alleged she was assaulted by the same man.

On Wednesday, the same day that Ms Higgins will provide her first formal statement to police, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds is scheduled to appear at the National Press Club where she is expected to face more questions over the handling of the incident that took place in her office in March 2019.

Senator Reynolds has not fronted a press conference or taken questions from journalists since the scandal over the Morrison Government’s handling of the matter first emerged after published the explosive interview with Ms Higgins on Monday, February 15.

She has offered an unqualified apology for holding an employment meeting with Ms Higgins in the room she was allegedly raped just days after the incident but maintained she did not know at the time it involved a potential sexual assault.

RELATED: Second woman comes forward with allegations

However, on the Friday before that April 1 meeting, Senator Reynolds’ chief of staff had sought and received written advice from the Department of Finance on how to handle a potential sexual assault claim by Ms Higgins. has confirmed that advice stated the then-Defence Industry Minister and her COS had repeatedly urged Ms Higgins to take her complaint to the police.

“You have made it very clear to her that if she requires assistance in making a complaint, you would be willing to support her,’’ the advice states.

“In addition, I understand you have discussed with her on several occasions that if she does choose to pursue a complaint, either now or at a later date, she would have the full and ongoing support of yourself and the Minister.”

However, at the time of the advice the Defence Minister maintains she did not know Ms Higgins was alleging sexual assault, nor had she advised her to go to the police.

“Ultimately any decision as to whether to lodge a police report or pursue any other form of complaint relating to this matter would be a personal choice of the person involved. I note the 1800Respect website recommends the person should have ‘as much control as possible over what to do next’ and that a person ‘may decide not to report to police, or not to have a medical or examination … This is their choice and must be respected’,’ the advice states.

“For a referral to be made on her behalf or without her consent or against her wishes could be harmful to her.”

On Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison backed a new, independent complaints body for political staffers working at Parliament House as fresh questions emerge over his government’s handling of an alleged rape in the ministerial wing.

The Prime Minister has now confirmed he’s actively considering a major overhaul of how staffing complaints are handled to ensure political staffers get support.

“I think there’s merit in that. I really don’t want to prejudge a lot of this,’’ he said.

“We need to … ensure that people are able, in these circumstances, to feel they can raise these issues, even though people are saying, you can, they need to feel that they can and to do so in a discrete and a private way and so they can get the support they need.”

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But the Prime Minister has warned business leaders and political leaders they are “kidding themselves” if they believe that the toxic, destructive culture exposed over the last week was confined to the Liberal Party or Parliament House.

“I think the culture needs to change and it needs to continually improve, but I’ve got to say, if any workplace, thinks that this is just confined to the parliament, they are kidding themselves, seriously, they’re kidding themselves, we’ve got our issues to deal with as a Parliament, and we’re saying we do,’’ he said.

In the first Newspoll to be conducted since the scandal broke, published in The Australian, the two-party preferred vote is unchanged at 50:50 but popular support for the Prime Minister as preferred PM has risen to 61 per cent. Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s support has fallen by 3 points to 26 per cent.

Ms Higgins will make a formal statement to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) on Wednesday afternoon, a move that will trigger an active investigation into her alleged rape in the ministerial wing of Parliament House in March, 2019.

AFP detectives will fly to Queensland this week to take her statement, prompting police to reactivate the investigation that was paused in April, 2019 at Ms Higgins’ request, just two days after Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the federal election on April 11, 2019.

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In her correspondence with the AFP at the time, Ms Higgins cited the pressures of her job and the looming election campaign as the main factor in her decision not to pursue a formal complaint at that stage.

“It’s just not the right decision for me personally, especially in light of my workplace demands,” she said.

At the time, Ms Higgins says she was concerned about the impact that pursuing a complaint would have during the election and for her future job prospects.

In June of that year, her counsellor from the Canberra Rape Crisis centre wrote to Ms Higgins again, noting these concerns.

“The election is now over and I am wondering if any issues are arising for you?,’’ she wrote.

“Please know I am here to talk or come in and have a session.”

Ms Higgins had sought assistance at the time from the parliamentary Employee Assistance Program but found that securing an appointment could take weeks.

She never received any counselling from the EAP at the time, nor did anyone from the Morrison Government follow up to ensure she had secured an appointment or was receiving ongoing care instead relying on counselling from the rape crisis centre.

The Prime Minister also confirmed that he was not happy to learn that after contacted his office on February 12 with detailed questions on how his office handled the alleged rape in 2019 that he was not informed of Ms Higgins’ complaint by his office for 65 hours, until the story was published on Monday, February 15 at 8am.

“I’ve expressed my view to my staff about that very candidly on Monday,” Mr Morrison said.

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