Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has retracted a comment calling alleged rape victim Brittany Higgins a “lying cow” and apologised again for making the remark.
- Senator Reynolds made the comment in her office on the day Ms Higgins went public with her allegations
- Ms Higgins says she has accepted the apology from Senator Reynolds
- She says any money received as part of the settlement will go to an organisation that provides support and counselling
Senator Reynolds made the remark after Ms Higgins, a former staffer, went public with her allegation that a colleague had raped her in the Minister’s office in 2019.
She made the comment in front of staff in her office but in a statement today said “she did not mean it in the sense it may have been understood”.
“Given that the comment was made public, which I never intended, I also want to retract it and unreservedly apologise to Brittany Higgins and acknowledge the hurt and distress it caused to her.”
Ms Higgins responded to the announcement, saying she was pleased the comment had been withdrawn and she had accepted the Minister’s apology.
She also alluded to damages being paid in her settlement with the Senator.
“This has been an immensely challenging period for me and I wish to reiterate that the only reason I have chosen to come forward is to help others,” she said.
“Finally, any monies I have received from the Minister as part of the settlement of my claim against her (over and above my legal costs) will be paid in full to an organisation that provides counselling and support to survivors of sexual assault and abuse in the Canberra area.
“These funds will assist them in this important work.”
Last Thursday, lawyers representing Ms Higgins sent a letter to the Senator demanding a public apology for the comment and that she withdraw it immediately.
Sexual assault support services:
Senator Reynolds issued a formal apology the next day, saying the comments were not a reference to the allegations Ms Higgins had made.
“I have never questioned Ms Higgins’s account of her alleged sexual assault and have always sought to respect her agency in this matter,” she said.
Ms Higgins has alleged that she was raped by a colleague in the Senator’s office in March 2019 when Senator Reynolds was the then-defence industry minister.
She has made a formal complaint to the Australian Federal Police about the alleged incident.
At the time she labelled the comment as “never excusable” and that it was “further evidence of the toxic workplace culture” at Parliament House
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds previously apologised for the comment.(ABC News: Matt Roberts
“It was appropriate for Senator Reynolds to apologise, and apologise to the full satisfaction of Ms Higgins, and I hope the steps that have been taken achieve that outcome,” the Coalition’s leader in the Senate, Simon Birmingham, told the ABC.
However, he was not prepared to speculate what meaning Senator Reynolds attached to the term “lying cow”, despite her insistence it was misunderstood.
“I wasn’t present, but what I hope for is that Ms Higgins is satisfied with the retraction and full apology that has been provided.”
Senator Reynolds announced over the weekend that she would extend her medical leave until the beginning of April after being reassessed by her cardiologist.
The extended absence means not only will she miss the next sitting fortnight, she will also not appear before Senate estimates, where ministers are subject to scrutiny and interrogation.
The Senator was admitted to hospital a fortnight ago to receive treatment for a pre-existing heart condition, amid sustained criticism of aspects of her handling of the rape allegation made by Ms Higgins.
Senator Reynolds has already apologised for holding an initial meeting with Ms Higgins in the same room where the alleged rape occurred and made emotional statements to the Parliament about the actions she took in response.
“At all times to me, Brittany’s welfare and her right to privacy were paramount,” Senator Reynolds said last month.
Labor’s Louise Pratt criticised Senator Reynolds for the time it took her to withdraw the comment.
“It was an appalling comment, it should never have been made,” she said.
“It has taken too long for it to be fully withdrawn.”