Emotional minister defends handling of rape allegation
Struggling to hold back tears, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has defended her handling of a rape allegation by her former staffer, describing it as a "difficult" and "complex" matter.
Ms Reynolds said she had "full confidence" in her actions toward Brittany Higgins, but failed to clarify what she knew and when about the alleged rape, which happened on a couch in her office in March 2019.
"Throughout this entire time, my sole desire has been to let Brittany herself determine how this matter would be dealt with," she said.
"But at the time this was a difficult, it was a complex and it was a highly sensitive matter."
Ms Reynolds recounted the meetings she held with Ms Higgins but did not clarify if she knew about the rape claim before holding the meeting in the same location where it allegedly occurred.
"I became aware incrementally over a period of days of Brittany's story during private conversations with her and my then chief-of-staff and via reports from parliamentary authorities," she said.
"On Monday April 1, I met with Brittany and my then former chief-of-staff.
"During this meeting I made it clear to Brittany that she would have my full support in whatever course of action she decided to take."
Ms Reynolds said she was sorry some of her actions and handling of the matter "added to Brittany's distress".
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was "sorry" if Ms Higgins felt he had been "victim blaming" her.
"The last thing I would want to see is to add any further distress to what Brittany is already going through," he said.
Mr Morrison announced from Monday there would be three counsellors at Parliament House for MPs and their staff and a counselling phone service.
"I have been listening to what (Ms Higgins has) been saying and I am seeking to put in place arrangements, whether it is the support of staff who are here in this building here and now and will be feeling … because of the nature of these events that have arisen," he said.
Originally published as Emotional minister defends handling of rape allegation