Newly revealed text messages undermine Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s claim that his office only learned of former staffer Brittany Higgins’ allegation of rape at Parliament House last week, according to news reports.
In text messages obtained by The Australian and allegedly sent within a fortnight after the alleged assault, a fellow Liberal staffer assured Higgins that he’d told a member of the prime minister’s office about her accusation.
“Spoke to PMO. He was mortified to hear about it and how things have been handled,” the text says, as reported by The Australian.
“He’s going to discuss with COS — no one else. I flagged need for councillor [sic] and desire to be closer to home during election.”
PMO means prime minister’s office, and COS stands for chief of staff.
Morrison, however, stuck to his timeline of events in Parliament on Thursday, claiming that his office only found out about the allegations last Friday and he only learned of them this past Monday. Higgins said three of Morrison’s staff members knew of her allegations at the time.
As news.com.au first reported on Monday, Higgins was working as a media advisor for Defence Minister Linda Reynolds in 2019 when, she said, a male colleague took her to Parliament House after a night out and assaulted her on a couch in Reynolds’ office.
Days after the alleged incident, Reynolds called a meeting in the same office where Higgins said she was raped. Higgins told ‘The Project’ she did not feel supported at the time and felt like she had to choose between her career and pursuing the matter with the police to seek justice.
Reynolds has since apologised to Higgins for the treatment she received after she came forward with the allegations. Reynolds added that she deeply regretted calling a meeting with Higgins in the place she was allegedly attacked.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said on Friday that the text messages apparently contradict what the prime minister has said.
“It’s beyond belief that it wouldn’t then be raised with the chief of staff, at least,” he told ABC’s ‘News Breakfast’.
“This occurs in April of 2019. Of course, two weeks after the reported sexual assault. But, of course, also one month before the federal election was held.”
“It’s just incomprehensible that the prime minister’s office, given a reported sexual assault had occurred 50 meters from his office, wouldn’t have then had a discussion,” Albanese added. “It just doesn’t stack up.”
After the alleged text exchange leaked on Friday, Twitter users speculated that Morrison’s job could be on the line.
Morrison’s job is looking increasingly untenable.
I give it a week.
— 💧🔥🐨Bee🐝 (@BelindaJones68) February 18, 2021
There won’t be a #LibSpill. Linda Reynolds will resign. The PM will thank her for her service, praise himself for the inquiries he’s announced, then say the Govt is “getting on with the job” of “rolling-out the Covid vaccine, creating jobs and getting AUS back to work”. #auspolpic.twitter.com/cMvSEFoYdM
— Peter Murphy (@PeterWMurphy1) February 19, 2021
Morrison is a cornered wounded animal. His party know he has to go. Frydenberg & Dutton will be counting numbers. They also know cornered wounded animals are dangerous. If they get their timing wrong Morrison will take many of his colleagues with him. #Popcorn#Libspill#auspol
— Aaron Dodd (Now is the winter of our discontent) (@AaronDodd) February 19, 2021
Surely, there’s 3 options: 1. He knew and lied. Gone. 2. His office knew and were incompetent. He fires but survives. 3. His office knew, and understood he did not want to know. Gone. #LibSpill
— James Spiller (@JamesSpiller11) February 18, 2021