West Australian Senator Linda Reynolds has described herself as the “perfect villain” while vowing to refer a payout for her former employee Brittany Higgins to the newly formed National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).
In her first in-depth interview since Higgins alleged she was raped in Parliament House in 2019, Reynolds told 7NEWS Spotlight reporter Liam Bartlett she was the victim of a “political hit job” – and the late Labor senator Kimberley Kitching had warned her that Labor would pummel her with questions.
Her revelations follow Higgins’ accused rapist, Bruce Lehrmann, speaking out in a 7NEWS Spotlight exclusive in June.
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“I was the perfect villain,” Reynolds said. “Although none of it, this is the irony of it, none of it was absolutely true.
“Every good political hit job and every good story like this, and every social crusade, needs a villain. And I’ve now learned a lot more about how that was set up through … those recordings with Ms Higgins and (Network 10 journalist) Lisa Wilkinson.”
West Australian Senator Linda Reynolds has described herself as the “perfect villain”. Credit: AAP
In the June Spotlight investigation, recordings between Higgins, her partner David Sharaz, Wilkinson and Wilkinson’s producer were aired.
They detailed an hours-long meeting to discuss the intricacies of how Higgins would tell her story to Wilkinson on Network 10’s The Project, when it would be aired and how it would be followed.
One aspect of the conversation involved Sharaz asking whether Wilkinson had access to Labor politicians who could ask further questions of Reynolds and the Coalition government during Question Time.
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Wilkinson named then-Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, as well as Tanya Plibersek, while Sharaz said he could put forward Senator Katy Gallagher.
“It was clearly a setup from beginning to end,” Reynolds said. “Kimberley Kitching had told me about (it) before it happened.
“So she warned me … about, in her words, the hell that Labor was about to rain on me to get to (then-Prime Minister) Scott Morrison.”
Bruce Lehrmann sat down with 7NEWS Spotlight in June for his first in-depth interview. Credit: 7NEWS Spotlight
On March 22, 2019, Higgins and other members of the Defence staff were having drinks as a “last hurrah” before the upcoming federal election.
As more than 20 people celebrated, Lehrmann suggested they carry on to a nearby club.
As revealed in the June Spotlight investigation, festivities continued until the early hours of Saturday – at which point Lehrmann said he suggested he and Higgins share a ride home as they both lived in the same direction.
But, Lehrmann said, he had to stop by the office first to collect his keys and file some notes.
The pair arrived at Parliament House at 2am.
“I didn’t have my pass,” Lehrmann told police in a recorded interview. “I think I probably just forgot it that night … I didn’t have my keys and belongings because I wasn’t expecting it to be a big night.”
He told Bartlett that “from my recollection” Higgins also said she needed to go into the office. He says he didn’t ask why.
“I thought I was being a gentleman in assisting her to do that, in sharing an Uber,” Lehrmann added.
It was in Reynolds’ office that Higgins alleges she was raped by Lehrmann, who has always maintained his innocence.
A trial into the alleged rape was discontinued at the end of last year following allegations of a juror’s misconduct.
The ACT’s top prosecutor declined to pursue a retrial out of concern for Higgins’ mental wellbeing should she need to retake the stand.
Reynolds says she was warned about Katy Gallagher’s intention to question her on Higgins. Credit: AAP
In the wake of the abandoned trial, Higgins settled a personal injury claim against the government for an undisclosed amount – reported to be as high as $3 million.
Higgins has denied that figure, saying it was substantially less.
But Reynolds says she intends to refer the payment to the NACC because she was not allowed to be involved in mediation discussions.
“The reason that I’m going to be referring this claim to the National Anti-Corruption Commission is that the Attorney-General of this nation, through the government solicitors, wrote to both myself and Senator (Michaelia) Cash and instructed us not to defend ourselves, and that we were not to attend the mediation,” Reynolds told Spotlight.
Reynolds said she was told the government wanted mediation to be successfully settled in a single day, adding: “It’s inexplicable, which is why I’m referring it to the National Anti-Corruption Commission.”
Earlier this month, a board of inquiry released a report into Lehrmann’s prosecution. The inquiry – chaired by former Queensland judge Walter Sofronoff – was set up to examine accusations from police and prosecutors about each other’s conduct.
A key finding was that it was appropriate to prosecute the Lehrmann case on the information available to ACT Policing and Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold.
But several recommendations related to improving police policies, including defining the threshold required to charge a suspect, updates to how police store victim counselling notes and training on compiling evidence briefs.
Brittany Higgins (right) earlier accused Linda Reynolds of trying to silence sexual assault victims. Credit: AAP
The government has agreed to eight of the 10 recommendations and in principle to the final two, subject to further consultation.
ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said the report should be a wake-up call for police and prosecutors.
“(The recommendations) provide very practical and concrete steps for us to implement that will improve the justice system here in the ACT and seek to avoid the issues … identified as potential weaknesses in the system,” he told reporters in Canberra.
While Drumgold accepted his conduct was less than perfect, he rejected many of the findings against him. He announced last Sunday he would resign from the role of director of public prosecutions.
“While I acknowledge I made mistakes, I strongly dispute that I engaged in deliberate or underhanded conduct in the trial or that I was dishonest,” he said in a statement.
In the Spotlight interview, Reynolds said she agreed with headlines describing Drumgold as “grossly unethical” and was disappointed he resigned, as opposed to the ACT government standing him down or dismissing him earlier.
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