Channel 10’s Lisa Wilkinson told Brittany Higgins in an off the record discussion that she knew “friendly” MPs who might drive the story forward, including Anthony Albanese and Tanya Plibersek.
In an extraordinary trove of CCTV and audio never seen or heard before by the public, the Seven network last night broadcast excerpts from The Project’s interviews.
The audio was handed over by Channel 10 under subpoena during the criminal trial, though much of the material aired was never played to the jury. Mr Lehrmann is suing Ms Wilkinson and Channel 10 for defamation in the Federal Court.
At the time the story first aired in 2021, Mr Albanese was not prime minister, but was the opposition leader. The Labor Party strongly pursued the allegations in parliament.
Channel 7’s television special featured audio from a five hour discussion conducted by Ms Wilkinson and her producer Angus Llewllyn with Ms Higgins and her partner David Sharaz in the lead-up to the sit down interview.
“Do you have friendly MPs? You know, that could fire questions at Question Time?’’ Mr Sharaz asks.
“Oh, certainly Albo,’’ Ms Wilkinson replies.
The Project host then adds that another option is the Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek.
“Tanya Plibersek, definitely,’’ she says.
Mr Sharaz then suggests they could get Australian of the Year Grace Tame to back the story in after it aired on Channel 10.
“You want friendly so they don’t saturate the air time,’’ he says.
When the story aired, Seven interviewer Liam Bartlett suggested, it was “by any measure, the worst day of Mr Lehrmann’s life”.
The former Liberal staffer said he first read the allegations when news.com.au published an interview with Ms Higgins.
“I, like everybody else who had read it, was horrified,’’ Mr Lehrmann said.
“I think there are text messages between me and friends saying I used to work with her, you know, horrified.
“It then became apparent at 2pm or thereabouts, when Rosie Lewis of The Australian emailed my boss at British American Tobacco and said that she’d heard from government sources that I was the alleged rapist, now I’m called in for a meeting with my bosses. They suspend me pending an internal review.”
Earlier, Channel 7 aired more tapes of the off the record discussion conducted by Ms Wilkinson before the sit down interview.
At one point, Mr Sharaz asks Ms Wilkinson what she wants to achieve.
“Whether it’s white privilege, male domination, whether it’s, you know, criminal activity. I am from the western suburbs of Sydney. I have always been motivated by exactly the same thing, people who deserve to be heard, not being heard,’’ Ms Wilkinson replies.
Mr Lehrmann flatly denied raping Brittany Higgins in his TV interview, declaring it “simply didn’t happen”.
Albanese ‘a bit of a dead duck’
On Sunday night, The Australian newspaper published further extracts from the recording which it said included Ms Wilkinson suggesting Mr Albanese was “a bit of a dead duck at the moment”.
“Well, he’s in a car crash, leave him alone,” Mr Sharaz responded. “He got a lot of coverage out of that.”
Earlier, Ms Wilkinson tells Ms Higgins she does not want “to put words in your mouth” but does want her to discuss the culture of Parliament House.
“I have every confidence that you will answer that very eloquently, but it’s one you just need to really think about,” Ms Wilkinson says.
“I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but if you can enunciate the fact that this place is all about suppression of people’s natural sense of justice.”
Ms Higgins says in the February, 2021 recording that she was worried about the prospects of conviction.
“If he wants to go after me, like on a civil basis, I think, on the balance of probabilities, I think I could win. I think it’s, if the onus of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt, I think that would be different. I don’t think I could win that,” Ms Higgins says.
In an extract of the recording that was played at the trial, Mr Sharaz says that if the story breaks in a parliamentary sitting week “they have to answer questions at question time, it’s a mess for them”.
“I’ve got a friend in Labor, Katie Gallagher on the Labor side, who will probe and continue it going,’’ Mr Sharaz said.
In the recording Ms Wilkinson also criticises former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop.
“The biggest frustration that I have with Julie is that she had so many opportunities to speak out against the culture,” Wilkinson says. “And for one woman too, what was she, deputy to 13 different prime ministers over the course of her time in parliament?”
Mr Sharaz then interjects: “Always loyal too. Bridesmaid, never the bride.”
“The minute she was out of there (she said) ‘Oh it’s really sexist.’ I tried to get her on the record with that so many times when she could’ve actually affected change, and she wouldn’t,’’ Ms Wilkinson replies.
Conversation then turns to whether Ms Bishop might speak out or would back Michaelia Cash and Linda Reynolds.
“They’re all Perth girls,” Ms Wilkinson says. However, Ms Higgins says “they were never friends”.
“I don’t know why, but they never liked each other,” Ms Higgins says in the recording.
Mr Sharaz then adds: “Julie doesn’t have any friends.”
Like ‘a nuclear bomb exploding’
In a television special that included, for the first time, CCTV of the night in question, Mr Lehrmann described the “dark day” that the allegations were first aired on February 15, 2021.
“It is a metaphorical version of a nuclear bomb or the world exploding before your eyes,’’ he said.
He said he had been “kicked to the curb” and was “outraged” by the fallout that followed Ms Higgins interviews in 2021.
“Did you rape Britney Higgins?,’’ Mr Bartlett asked at the beginning of the program.
“No, I didn’t. It simply didn’t happen,’’ Mr Lehrmann replied.
“Did you have consensual sex?,’’ Mr Bartlett replied.
“No,’’ he replied.
“Did you kiss her?,’’ he was asked.
“No,’’ he replied.
Ms Higgins publicly accused Mr Lehrmann of raping her inside the Parliament House office of then minister Linda Reynolds, in February, 2021.
The initial stories did not identify him by name. He was not publicly named until he was charged in August, 2021.
The allegations centred on what happened after Mr Lehrmann and Ms Higgins returned to work at around 2am after a night of drinking.
He has always insisted that she turned towards the minister’s own office inside the suite and he went right to his own desk.
He later told police he didn’t see her again and left without saying goodbye to her after completing work at his desk.
A criminal trial in the ACT Supreme Court was first delayed following Ms Wilkinson’s Logies speech and then derailed last October because of juror misconduct.
As a result, the jury never reached a verdict, but had appeared deadlocked and unable to reach a unanimous verdict in the days that preceded the trial’s collapse.
In December, the ACT prosecutor Shane Drumgold announced he would not proceed with a second trial on the basis of the threat to Ms Higgins’ mental health. The charge sex without consent was dropped.