An inquiry into who knew what and when in the Prime Minister’s office over a complaint by staffer Brittany Higgins has been suspended.
An inquiry into who knew what and when in the Prime Minister’s office over a complaint by Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins has been suspended on the basis of legal advice.
News.com.au reported last week that a departmental investigation into the response by the Prime Minister’s Office into a complaint by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins should be paused and not released before a criminal case is concluded because it could jeopardise a fair trial, according to the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions.
The DPP’s warning raised the prospect that any findings from the six-month investigation led by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Phil Gaetjens may remain secret until after the 2022 federal election.
Ms Higgins went public in February with her complaint over the Government’s response to an alleged incident in the ministerial suite of then-Defence Industry Minister Linda Reynolds in March 2019.
Earlier this month a Queensland man was served with a summons to appear in the ACT Magistrate’s Court on September 16 on a single charge of sexual intercourse without consent.
The man’s lawyers have indicated he will plead not guilty to the charge. They say the man will deny that any sexual activity occurred on the night in question.
The ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold has written to Ms Higgins warning they should not participate in the investigation and it should not be released.
Mr Drumgold expresses the view that, given criminal proceedings are underway, the continuation of the Gaetjens inquiry could interfere with the police investigation and she should not participate in it.
In a statement released on Monday afternoon, Mr Gaetjens said he had now suspended the inquiry which was launched on February 17.
“I was asked by the Prime Minister to report on who in the Prime Minister’s Office had knowledge of the alleged sexual assault of Ms Brittany Higgins in March 2019, and when and how that knowledge was acquired,” he said.
“In late March 2021 Ms Higgins indicated she wished to provide input to the inquiry, which I agreed to do when she was in a position to contribute.
“Charges were recently laid in relation to this matter by the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions.
“On 26 August 2021, I was informed of media reports that Mr Shane Drumgold, ACT Director of Public Prosecutions, considered that the continuation or finalisation of my inquiry could prejudice the criminal proceedings now on foot.
“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 action I have taken is strictly in response to the legal advice I have received, and does not relate to any of the content of the inquiry. 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.”
More to come