Higgins complains to Prime Minister’s office about backgrounding

Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins has formally complained to the Prime Minister’s chief of staff that colleagues in his office were backgrounding media with negative information about her partner.

Ms Higgins says in a letter to chief of staff John Kunkel on Thursday that “numerous journalists” had made her aware of the information being briefed in the days after she went public with allegations she was raped in a ministerial office in Parliament House in March 2019.

Brittany Higgins addressing thousands of people outside Parliament House.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

Ms Higgins’ allegations, made public in mid-February, sparked intense scrutiny of the culture within Parliament House that has morphed into widespread anger about the treatment of women and prompted many others to speak out about their own experiences of sexual harassment and assault. Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins is now leading a review into the culture of Parliamentary workplaces.

Labor has repeatedly questioned Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Parliament over whether his staff backgrounded against Ms Higgins or her partner, and what he has done to find out if it was true.

Asked to “categorically” say it hadn’t happened, Mr Morrison told ABC radio on Thursday no one from the press gallery had raised it with his chief of staff.

“There has been no one in the gallery, nothing has been raised with my office from anyone in the gallery making any of those accusations or any discomfort about anything that my office has done,” he said. “But there’s no one who has raised that with my Chief of Staff out of the gallery, no.”

This response prompted Ms Higgins’ letter.

She said journalists from news.com.au, the Daily Telegraph and Channel 10 had made her aware “about the backgrounding that was happening against my partner”.

“To my knowledge, this was being done by staff within the Prime Minister’s media team,” she wrote.

“I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. It is entirely plausible the Prime Minister did not know that this was happening, however the more relevant point is that it did occur.”

Ms Higgins also said it was her “express desire” to be allowed to give information to the Prime Minister’s department head Philip Gaetjens, who is investigating who within the Prime Minister’s office knew about her allegations before they became public, and when. Mr Gaetjens’ work is currently paused to ensure there is no overlap with a police investigation.

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