Linda Reynolds warns defamation trial still looms over rape victim Brittany Higgins


Former defence minister Linda Reynolds has warned Brittany Higgins that she will be “regrettably” forced to proceed to a defamation trial to prove there was never a cover-up of her alleged rape, unless Ms Higgins and her fiancee, David Sharaz, agree to publicly declare that and apologise.

While welcoming an olive branch in a statement by Ms Higgins, 29, over the weekend when she said she was “sorry” her former boss had been hurt by the saga, Senator Reynolds, 58, said the peace offering didn’t go far enough.

It follows Justice Michael Lee finding, on the civil standard of balance of probabilities, that Ms Higgins was raped but there was no cover-up or attempts to stop her from going to police. Bruce Lehrmann denies raping Ms Higgins.

On Sunday, Senator Reynolds highlighted the enormous financial cost of pursuing the defamation action against her former employee, hinting that an agreement to pay her legal costs would need to be part of any settlement.

“I appreciate Ms Higgins’ apology, not only to me but also to (Ms Reynolds’ former chief of staff) Fiona Brown,” she said.

“I sincerely hope that Justice Lee’s findings in relation to Ms Higgins’ allegation of rape will give her peace.

“My legal action against both Ms Higgins and Mr Sharaz was never about the allegation of rape. My action deals with what Justice Lee exposed as false allegations raised two years after the rape. Allegations that I and my staff, specifically Fiona Brown, not only failed to support Ms Higgins but subjected her to a dreadful and damaging political cover-up.”

In a new statement on Saturday, Ms Higgins apologised to Senator Reynolds, along with her then-chief of staff, Ms Brown, in the wake of Justice Lee’s judgment.

“Senator Reynolds and Fiona Brown have also been hurt and for that I am also sorry,” Ms Higgins said.

“My perceptions and feelings about what happened in the days and weeks after my rape are different from theirs. I deeply regret that we have not yet found common ground.”

But Senator Reynolds made clear on Sunday that Ms Higgins’ statement was not enough to resolve her legal claim.

She previously revealed she has mortgaged her house to lodge the defamation claim against Ms Higgins, who alleged in 2019 she was raped on a couch by Mr Lehrmann in Senator Reynolds’ ministerial office, and her partner David Sharaz.

“At enormous emotional and financial cost, I have fought for three years to expose the truth in relation to my conduct,’’ Senator Reynolds said on Sunday.

“The personal financial cost, in a large part, has been incurred due to the Attorney-General barring me from defending those same allegations in Ms Higgins’ civil claim against the Commonwealth.”

Ms Higgins was previously hospitalised in Perth this year after a serious self-harm incident. It followed a day of mediation over the defamation case with Senator Reynolds, which failed to resolve the matter.

Senator Reynolds then proposed a two-week break to allow her former employee to recover.

“Legal negotiations are unfortunately sometimes difficult and testing for all participants and yesterday was a tiring and difficult day for all of us,” Senator Reynolds said in a statement at the time.

Senator Reynolds has accused Ms Higgins of repeatedly defaming her in social media posts.

“Ever since Ms Higgins first made her allegations of rape public, I have been the target of unwarranted criticism and abuse,” Senator Reynolds said last year.

“I have had enough. I will not tolerate being defamed by her or anybody.”

Senator Reynolds also claims she was defamed by Mr Sharaz’s reply to a comment on her Facebook page.

During Ms Higgins’ personal injury claim, Senator Reynolds complained that the Commonwealth refused to provide taxpayer funding to her to fight Ms Higgins’ case, unless she agreed not to turn up at mediation and allow the Commonwealth to finalise the matter.

Documents tabled in the Senate confirm that Ms Higgins’ personal injury lawyers first raised her claim against the Commonwealth on 21 December 2021, under the previous Morrison government.

The deed of settlement was executed almost a year later on 13 December 2022, and she was paid $2.4 million. She told the Federal Court she received $1.9 million after tax and legal fees.

The department has confirmed in response to questions on notice that the settlement was considered in advices by senior counsel spanning many months, beginning under the former Liberal government.

“Looking forward, I welcome Ms Higgins’ olive branch and her commitment to engage with me to reach a resolution. I hope Mr Sharaz will now make a similar approach,’’ Senator Reynolds said on Sunday.

“It is important to note that Ms Higgins in her statement yesterday observed that she does not agree with all of Justice Lee’s findings.

“What still lies between us are not different perceptions.

“It is a fact that Ms Higgins received our support and that there was no cover-up.

“The common ground we now find must be based on the truth.

“As a matter of law, neither of us, nor Mr Sharaz, are bound by Justice Lee’s decision.

“If Ms Higgins does not accept Justice Lee’s findings on the claims of cover-up and mistreatment then, regrettably, it will have to be proved again in our trial set for July this year.”