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Tue, 16 Feb, 2021

Parliament House alleged sexual assault: How Brittany Higgins' horror night unfolded

Parliament House alleged sexual assault: How Brittany Higgins' horror night unfolded

Trigger warning: This article contains information which may be triggering to some readers.

Patrolling Parliament House in the early hours of Sunday morning, a security guard was not expecting to come across half dressed Brittany Higgins.

She was left on the couch of the Defence Minister Linda Reynolds' ministerial suite by a man she knew as a colleague.

He suggested to swing past Parliament House to pick something up after a long night of drinking with colleagues.

They had started at a pub on the Kingston foreshore called The Dock. A smaller group had ended up at a bar called 88mph. He had kept buying rounds and she realised she was very drunk. So drunk, she had fallen over and been helped up by the Liberal staffer.

“At that point I was very intoxicated. I thought, ‘Well, I am well and truly done. I need to go’,” she said. “And so there were only four of us left. We were going the same way.”

She did find his suggestion to go past Parliament House on the way home was strange.

“He wanted to stop by Parliament for some reason. I was really drunk and I thought it was weird I guess,’’ she said.

Even after midnight, the ministerial entrance is a blaze of bright lights and security guards.

“It sounds so stupid. But you just think, this is Parliament, this is work. There are security guards everywhere. And you just naturally assume it’s OK.

“I remember getting into the cab and I remember him shushing me at the security guards because I was super drunk. He had to get me through security so he was just like ‘Shh, you need to be quiet’.”

She didn't have a parliamentary security pass and could barely sign her own name.

He signed her in and walked through the deserted ministerial wing where every move is tracked by CCTV and monitored 24 hours a day by security guards and the Australian Federal Police.

Then, she remembers being in her own office — Senator Reynolds’ ministerial suite — where she had worked for just a few weeks.

“I remember sitting on the ledge for a little while. These little window ledges that face into the Prime Minister’s courtyard. And then I remember feeling very tired.”

She decided to lie down on the couch. When she woke up, he was on top of her.

“All of sudden he was on top of me and I physically couldn’t get him off of me,” she told news.com.au.

“And I was crying. And then it was just happening. I couldn’t get him off and I couldn’t stop it. I remember just being stuck inside my body. As it was happening.

“And then the next day it was morning and I remember a security guard yelling into the office. And that is sort of all I have.”

She woke up the next morning hearing a security guard yelling.

The Department of Finance would later inform Senator Reynolds’ chief of staff that Ms Higgins was found undressed and was offered medical assistance or an ambulance which she declined. Ms Higgins does not recall this.

“I had half my dress on. It was a lady who called in. They just sort of yelled into the front office. I was in the ministerial suite, on the couch.

“I think I just yelled out, ‘I’m fine!’. It was just that instant panic thing. It was protectionist mode.”

She was still wearing the cocktail dress she had been wearing the night before.

Senator Reynolds had left a bag of old Carla Zampatti jackets and coats on the desk she planned to give to charity.

Ms Higgins tried to find something that would cover up what she was wearing and let her slip out of the building relatively unnoticed and into an Uber. She still has the receipt.

“So I left. I pulled myself together,’’ she said.

But the security guards and the Australian Federal Police stationed at Parliament House had definitely noticed her.

It had already been escalated up the command chain of those watching the building.

“Fundamentally, things had already moved beyond the point that they could not involve the police. There was a trigger mechanism because there was a security breach,’’ she said.

“And then when that security breach was reported it went to the AFP. There’s an AFP unit in Parliament House.”

Later, a Defence Department staff member told her she she had been found during a routine check of the office.

“He said that someone had ‘found me’ at one point during the night,’’ she said

“Because they do these checks to find out if confidential material has been left out. They do these ‘breaches’. At one point during the night I was found and they didn’t know what to do.”

The next day was Monday. On autopilot, she returned to Parliament House. It wasn’t long before she ran into her alleged attacker.

“Yes. We didn’t talk. We didn’t look at each other,’’ she said.

“It was obviously very tense. But I still was in that shocked space. The first thing I was immediately stressed about was if I was pregnant.

“I didn’t process ‘You had sex, You didn’t consent. You were crying’. So I was just really concerned: ‘Am I pregnant? Am I going to lose my job?’

“It’s kind of like the impact of a car crash and the whole world goes fuzzy. I felt like that whole day I just wasn’t connected to what I was doing.”

Ms Higgins did speak to the Australian Federal Police and her chief of staff in the days that followed.

But she ultimately asked the police to halt the investigation on Saturday, April 13, just two days after the Prime Minister called the election.

“It’s just not the right decision for me personally, especially in light of my workplace demands,’’ she wrote.

ACT Policing confirm they received a report in April 2019 in relation to an alleged assault at Parliament House.

The ACT Policing’s investigation remains open but did not progress at that time as a result.

“Victims always have a say in how far a police investigation goes, can determine that a matter not proceed to prosecution, and can withdraw from the process at any time,’’ a spokeswoman said.

“It is not uncommon for an investigation to halt, not proceed to prosecution, or to be recommenced at a later time, at the request of a victim.”