by BETTINA ARNDT – BRITTANY Higgins has crashed from her pedestal, potentially bringing with her key government ministers.
The silencing of proper public debate about the weaponisation of this pivotal rape case has ended, revealing widespread community contempt about the way this has all been handled.
When we look back at what caused it all to fall apart, no one will forget the widely exposed video footage of Senator Katy Gallagher, the current finance minister, shown in June 2021 attacking then-Defence Minister Linda Reynolds for daring to suggest she knew about the Higgins rape allegation two weeks before it first surfaced publicly.
“How dare you?” Gallagher said with indignation.
However, now we have evidence from a five-hour chat recorded weeks before the Higgins sexual assault allegations first hit the media that strongly suggests Gallagher may have allegedly known about the matter from the start but also, according to the text messages, was “really invested” in using the issue to attack the Coalition government.
At least that is according to Higgins’ boyfriend, David Sharaz, a former journalist and alleged friend of Gallagher.
And she appears to have allegedly lied about this in Senate Estimates – setting herself up for a charge of misleading parliament.
Zali Stegall MP has also accused the Opposition of using all this to make a “vile political attack” on the government.
She’s charging Dutton with launching a political attack for calling the government to account for Labor’s use of the Higgins matter for the vile political attack which brought down the previous government.
Labor achieved this by falsely claiming a government coverup of the rape allegation – another vile political attack.
Enough to do your head in?
Moreover, if the revelations in Bruce Lehrmann’s Channel 7 interview are true, then they could well turf some of the Labor ministers out of their jobs.
The stories keep coming.
One key item which needs explaining is that Lehrmann did not pull out of his first defamation battle with News Life Media (formerly news.com.au) regarding the article by Samantha Maiden, which, alongside Lisa Wilkinson’s hit job on The Project, led to him being identified as an alleged rapist to the entire country.
It ended with a confidential settlement, but unfortunately, the statement hammered out by the two teams of lawyers who achieved that result gives the impression that Lehrmann simply discontinued the action.
However, Lehmann announced at the time that he was “extremely happy with the settlement,” which included two components – the payment of legal fees (the amount wasn’t specified, but Lehrmann’s comment suggests this was not a small sum) plus an addendum to the Maiden article stating it is not claimed that Lehrmann “was guilty of sexual assault”.
Does this amount to a compensation payout and correction? Looks like a duck, and swims like a duck…
But now’s certainly the time for pressure to be put on the Walkley Award organisation to ensure Maiden’s Award is revoked.
The top prize for effrontery from the media players in the defamation cases must go to the national broadcaster ABC, which is now claiming it offered to make amends to Lehrmann over the broadcast of the National Press Club address by Higgins.
Sure, they did – with an offer of $5000!
Podcaster Chad James had a very interesting discussion about the ABC defamation case, which makes the telling point that ABC kept the video of Higgins’ Press Council address up on their website until April this year – despite the criminal proceedings having been dropped late last year, and even after receiving the concerns notice of the defamation action.
Every day, new gems pop up – like the item on the Channel Seven News in May reporting that Higgins allegedly had previously had sexual relations multiple times in her boss’s office.
This information was apparently included in text messages the police allegedly recovered from Higgins’ phone and referred to alleged encounters with former boyfriends on the minister’s couch.
As for Lehrmann’s Spotlight interview, his decision to go public at this stage was prompted by various media outlets jockeying over who would release extracts from the audio recording of the five-hour meeting between Higgins, her boyfriend David Sharaz, television personality Lisa Wilkinson and her producer.
In it, they plan to employ Labor politicians in their campaign to use the rape allegation to bring down the Morrison government.
For example, one comment from Higgins, when she is speaking about the former prime minister, declared: “He’s about to be [explicative] over. Just wait. We’ve got him.”
“I still hate the [explicative],” replied Sharaz.
Lehrmann has described Sharaz as an alleged “puppet master” who used Higgins to bring down the government.
For the first time, Lehrmann is being stopped in the street by people telling him they now believe his side of the story.
Nothing has undermined Higgins’ already shredded credibility as effectively as the image of her in the Seven interviews, skipping cheerfully through security at parliament house, showing no sign of the drunken stupor she claimed she was allegedly experiencing in her statements to police.
Now this has become the dangerous political story for Labor, with Reynolds promising to refer Higgins’ compensation to the National Anti-Corruption Commission.
The Australian newspaper’s legal expert Chris Merritt has pointed out that this payment was made without any finding of wrongdoing, and that the Albanese Government nobbled the mediation by preventing key ministers, Linda Reynolds and Michaelia Cash, from giving evidence by threatening not to pay their legal fees.
Merritt explains this made it impossible for officials running that process to “properly discharge their duty to protect the financial interests of the Commonwealth”, which could result in criminal sanctions.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is now protecting Gallagher by claiming the decision was made entirely by Attorney General Mark Dreyfus using his “exceptional circumstances provision” – where normal rules need not apply.
We’ll see how that goes.
There’s blood in the water, and the Opposition is stepping up, promising to pursue this agenda with talk about possible Senate inquiries as well as the referral to the Anti-Corruption Commission.
The most surprising twist in this endless saga is that the former Australian of the Year, Grace Tame, herself a survivor of sexual assault, is no longer prepared to support Brittany Higgins. She has quietly deleted an Instagram post in which she declared Higgins was her friend and a “national hero”.
This perhaps speaks volumes about how Brittany Higgins has fallen from grace.PC