Attorney-General of Australia, Mark Dreyfus, has defended the government’s large payment to Brittany Higgins, saying it was made ‘to the letter of the law’.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus says a Commonwealth Government compensation payment awarded to Brittany Higgins was made “to the letter of the law”.
Appearing on Today, Dreyfus was questioned about why the details of the settlement with Higgins, reached following the former political staffer’s claims of sexual assault at Parliament House, remain confidential.
“It’s very common for the Commonwealth to settle claims on the Commonwealth to settle claims on the basis of agreed confidentiality,” Dreyfus replied.
“It’s very often in the Commonwealth’s interests that there be confidentiality and often in the case of sexual harassment claims, there is a desire on the part of the claimant to keep the matter confidential.”
Dreyfus said it was also not unusual for compensation to be paid before the outcome of a court case was known.
“Most claims in Australian courts are settled without a trial. It’s absolutely the norm for there to be mediations before trial … so as to attempt to settle a dispute,” the attorney-general said.
Higgins accused former fellow political staffer Bruce Lehrmann of rape in 2021, a charge he has always denied.
His trial was abandoned last October following a case of juror misconduct and no findings were made against him.
Dreyfus was also questioned about a series of text messages, published by News Corp, between Higgins and her partner David Sharaz, a former journalist.
The text messages appear to show Sharaz had discussed Higgins’ rape allegation with Katy Gallagher – who is now finance minister – before it was made public.
In one message, Sharaz tells Higgins, “Katy Gallagher messaged me. “She’s angry and wants to help.”
Dreyfus said Gallagher had no questions to answer over the text messages and he was solely responsible for making the decision regarding Higgins’ compensation payout.
“I made this decision as Attorney-General that brought against the Commonwealth,” Dreyfus said.
“It was a decision made absolutely in accordance with the legal services direction. The minister had no part to play. Again, that’s standard.”
Former defence minister Linda Reynolds has said she may refer the government’s compensation payment to Brittany Higgins to the new National Anti-Corruption Commission, which will begin operations in July.