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Federal ministers ‘covering themselves’ after Brittany Higgins’ alleged rape, Bruce Lehrmann rape trial hears

Federal ministers ‘covering themselves’ after Brittany Higgins’ alleged rape, Bruce Lehrmann rape trial hears
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Read Time:2 Minute, 55 Second

Brittany Higgins’ former boss says she fought pressure from two federal ministers to make a report with police before the alleged rape survivor chose to lodge her own complaint.

Senator Linda Reynolds’ former acting chief of staff Fiona Brown was working in Parliament House at the time Higgins was allegedly raped by Bruce Lehrmann in March 2019.

Brown gave evidence of meetings with Higgins after a security incident in which the junior media adviser and Lehrmann entered Parliament House in the early hours of a Saturday.

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In the week afterwards, Higgins disclosed to Brown that she had woken up to find Lehrmann on top of her, the Federal Court heard during a defamation trial on Tuesday.

In the aftermath of this, Senator Reynolds and then-special minister of state Alex Hawke insisted that Brown notify the police about what had happened rather than waiting for Higgins to make a complaint, Justice Michael Lee was told.

“You were concerned that this was covering themselves, that’s all they were worried about?” barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC said.

“Yes,” Brown replied.

Fiona Brown (pictured) pushed back against two ministers wanting to go to the police. Credit: Mick Tsikas/AAP

She told the court she pushed back against the request, saying that Higgins needed to make a personal choice about whether a formal complaint should be filed.

There were also the lives of two 23-year-olds to consider, she told the court.

“You just can’t walk into a cop shop and do something like that,” Brown said.

Chrysanthou is representing journalist Lisa Wilkinson, who is being sued alongside broadcaster Network Ten for defamation.

Lehrmann says the alleged rape never occurred and that a February 2021 interview on The Project with Higgins destroyed his reputation.

Higgins claims she was sexually assaulted by her fellow Liberal staffer while she was intoxicated on Senator Reynolds’ couch on March 23, 2019.

In her evidence, Brown insisted Higgins never made a direct allegation of assault during meetings in the week after the pair were spotted entering Parliament House after hours.

Bruce Lehrmann. Credit: AAP

She said she was “blindsided” by a claim that Lehrmann had been on top of Higgins but added she had not been informed of any allegations that something criminal had occurred.

Brown was also told to provide Higgins with information about Parliament House’s employee assistance program and the national domestic violence and sexual assault hotline.

Lehrmann was dismissed after the incident, but that was because he had already been warned after an earlier security breach in which he left a classified document unattended on a desk.

Higgins was not terminated as there had been no previous problems with her behaviour, the court heard.

“She was fairly new, so it was taken on that basis,” Brown said.

Lehrmann’s trial in the ACT Supreme Court charged with raping Higgins was derailed by juror misconduct.

Prosecutors did not seek a second trial, citing concerns for Higgins’ mental health.

He has been charged with allegedly raping another woman twice in Toowoomba in October 2021 and remains before Queensland courts.

He has not yet entered a plea but lawyers have indicated he denies that allegation.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.

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