Australian Senator Offers to Drop Defamation Case Against Former Staffer

Australian senator Linda Reynolds offers to drop defamation case against Brittany Higgins if she accepts court's finding of no political cover-up in her rape allegation. Higgins acknowledges not agreeing with all findings but respects court's observations.

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Geeta Pillai
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Australian Senator Offers to Drop Defamation Case Against Former Staffer

Australian Senator Offers to Drop Defamation Case Against Former Staffer

Australian Liberal senator Linda Reynolds has offered to drop her defamation case against former staffer Brittany Higgins if Higgins accepts a federal court judge's finding that there was no political cover-up in her 2019 rape allegation.

Justice Michael Lee of the Federal Court found that, on the balance of probabilities, Higgins was raped by her former colleague Bruce Lehrmann in Senator Reynolds' office in Parliament House in March 2019. However, the judge dismissed Lehrmann's defamation suit against Network 10 and Lisa Wilkinson, and rejected assertions of a political cover-up.

Senator Reynolds stated that her lawsuit against Higgins and her partner David Sharaz was never about the rape allegation itself, but rather about the "false allegations raised two years after the rape" of "a dreadful and damaging political cover-up." Reynolds said she has fought for three years to expose the truth and that there was no cover-up. She expressed a willingness to reach a resolution if Higgins accepts Justice Lee's findings, but warned that if Higgins does not accept the court's conclusions on the cover-up claims, the matter will have to be examined again at their trial set for July 2023.

Higgins acknowledged in a statement that she did not agree with all of Justice Lee's findings but respected his observations about the many people who were hurt in the aftermath of the rape. She said Senator Reynolds and her former chief of staff Fiona Brown had also been hurt throughout the court cases and public debate, and she hopes they can resolve their differences with a better understanding of each other's experiences.

Why this matters: The high-profile case has sparked a national conversation about the treatment of women in Australian politics and workplaces. The outcome of Senator Reynolds' defamation case against Higgins could have significant implications for how such allegations are handled in the future.

Opposition leader Peter Dutton characterized Higgins' statement as "gracious" and said Reynolds "absolutely" deserves an apology over the affair, though he noted that was ultimately a matter for the court. Dutton also said the details of Higgins' $2.4 million compensation payout from the Commonwealth, which were revealed in court documents, should be referred to the National Anti-Corruption Commission. "The issue is not on Brittany Higgins' side in relation to the $2.4 million, it's on the government's side," he stated.

Key Takeaways

  • Senator Reynolds offers to drop defamation case if Higgins accepts judge's findings
  • Judge dismissed Lehrmann's defamation suit, rejected claims of political cover-up
  • Higgins acknowledges not agreeing with all findings but respects observations
  • Case has sparked national conversation on treatment of women in politics
  • Dutton says Reynolds deserves apology, calls for probe into Higgins' payout