Gaetjens pauses Higgins’ inquiry following legal advice

By Melissa Coade

Tuesday August 31, 2021

Phil Gaetjens has suspended his ‘who knew what, when’ inquiry into claims of an alleged rape at parliament house in 2019.
Phil Gaetjens has suspended his ‘who knew what, when’ inquiry into claims of an alleged rape at parliament house in 2019. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) secretary Phil Gaetjens has suspended his ‘who knew what, when’ inquiry into claims of an alleged rape at parliament house in 2019.

The alleged crime involved a claim from former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins that she had been raped by a colleague in the parliamentary office of former Defence minister Linda Reynolds. That matter is now subject to legal proceedings, which are due to commence in the ACT Magistrates Court in September. 

On Friday, news emerged that ACT Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shane Drumgold had advised Higgins to “carefully consider not participating in any interview”, alluding to Gaetjens’s inquiry, at the risk that “it could ultimately result in publicity that is prejudicial to legal proceedings while the matter is sub curia”.

In a statement published to the website of the PM&C on Monday, Gaetjens confirmed that he has sought legal advice on the ACT DPP’s position and will suspend his inquiry until the conclusion of the criminal trial.

“On 26 August 2021, I was informed of media reports that Mr Shane Drumgold, ACT DPP, considered that the continuation or finalisation of my inquiry could prejudice the criminal proceedings now on foot,” Gaetjens’s statement read.

“My department separately confirmed those views with Mr Drumgold and I sought legal advice on the matter on the same day.

“On the basis of that legal advice received on 27 August 2021, I have suspended my inquiry until the conclusion of the criminal trial. This is to ensure that the inquiry can have no adverse impact on the criminal prosecution.”

The secretary made it clear that he chose to take this course of action in response to the legal advice he received — not from the content of the inquiry itself. 

“No inferences in relation to that content can be drawn from the legal advice nor my decision to suspend the inquiry.”

“I have advised the Prime Minister of my decision,” the statement read.

Gaetjens’ inquiry, which has been suspended once before, is one of several that prime minister Scott Morrison ordered in the wake of Higgin’s rape allegations in February of this year.

It is doubtful that the opportunity for Gaetjens’ to see through the inquiry will occur before the next federal election in 2022.


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