Defence minister Linda Reynolds has issued a third statement regarding a comment she made about former ministerial staffer Brittany Higgins.
Last month Higgins alleged that she was sexually assaulted by a colleague in Reynolds’ office in 2019. On the same day that Higgins’ allegations were aired in the media, Reynolds reportedly described her former employee as a “lying cow” in front of staff members.
On March 3 the minister, who is on medical leave, issued a statement clarifying that she “never questioned” Higgins’ allegations, arguing that her comment was in regard to the news reports, in which she believed she had been “misrepresented”.
The following day Higgins’ lawyer demanded that Reynolds publicly apologise and withdraw the comment, to which Reynolds released another statement:
“In response to a letter from Ms Higgins’ lawyers yesterday afternoon, discussions are now underway through our legal representatives in an effort to resolve this matter as soon as possible, with any resolution to include an apology,” she wrote.
“However, in the meantime, I want to express how deeply sorry I am for these remarks and for any hurt and distress they have caused.”
Then, on March 12, Reynolds issued a third statement to retract her comment altogether.
“I wish to further address the comment that I made. I did not mean it in the sense it may have been understood,” she said.
“Given that the comment was made public, which I never intended, I also want to retract it and unreservedly apologise to Brittany Higgins and acknowledge the hurt and distress it caused to her.”
According to Guardian Australia, Higgins has said any extra money she receives from Reynolds as part of the settlement will go to a counselling and support organisation for survivors of sexual assault to “assist them in this important work”.
Reynolds had reportedly made the “lying cow” comment in front of staff members, including public servants who were on secondment from the Department of Defence. Afterwards, she reportedly apologised to the staff for what she had said during “a stressful time”.
Higgins has said Reynolds’ comments were “further evidence of the toxic workplace culture that occurs behind closed doors in Parliament House”.