A senior politician singled out by Lisa Wilkinson as a “friendly MP” likely to help fuel momentum for Brittany Higgins’ rape allegation in question time says she was never approached and would not have accepted being told what to ask.
Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said she reached out to Ms Higgins after she made her sexual assault allegations public two years ago. Ms Plibersek, who at the time was a senior opposition frontbencher, said she did not recall if the former political staffer had spoken to her about “firing up” specific questions during question time.
Channel 7’s Spotlight on Sunday night featured an extensive interview with Bruce Lehrmann, the former staffer accused of raping Ms Higgins in Parliament House in 2019. The charge was dropped by the ACT DPP in 2022.
Ms Higgins made her accusations public in 2021 when she was interview by Wilkinson on The Project.
In Sunday’s program, Mr Lehrmann denied raping, or being intimate with Ms Higgins.
The show included segments of a recording from a five-hour pre-interview meeting between Wilkinson, her producer, Ms Higgins and her boyfriend David Sharaz.
The recording showed it had been a deliberate decision to break the story during a parliamentary sitting week so that the government would “have to answer questions at question time, it’s a mess for them”.
The recording aired on Sunday night included a discussion on how to recruit “friendly MPs” to “fire questions” in question time over the alleged sexual assault.
In a small part of the recording aired during the trial, Mr Sharaz told the group that he had a “friend in Labor” and senator Katy Gallagher would “probe and continue it going”.
In the section of the recording aired on Sunday night, Wilkinson said “certainly Albo” but later backtracked on suggesting Anthony Albanese – describing him as a “bit of a dead duck at the moment”.
Wilkinson also suggested “Tanya Plibersek, definitely”, to which Mr Sharaz said: “Yeah.”
Ms Plibersek said she had not been approached by Ms Higgins or Ms Wilkinson.
“Nobody tells me what to ask in question time,” Ms Plibersek told Channel 7 on Monday.
“I reached out to check on her. She did not reach out to me.”
Pressed further, Ms Plibersek reiterated that the extent of her involvement was to check in on Ms Higgins, saying she was “very upset and a fragile young woman”.
“It is absolutely no surprise that anybody would think that I would follow up on it, an instance like this,” she said.
“For 30 years I have been campaigning for better investigation and better treatment of victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and child sexual assault. It’s been a constant party of my political activism, long before anybody heard of Brittany Higgins.
“I’ve been doing this for decades now, and it is no surprise that I would be interested in justice being served in a situation like this.”
‘I don’t need to see that’: Minister responds to interview
During Mr Lehrmann’s interview, the former Liberal staffer denied raping Ms Higgins, saying it “simply didn’t happen”.
Mr Lehrmann also described the “dark day” that the allegations were first aired and detailed how, in the wake of that, he had considered suicide.
The show on Sunday night included never-before-seen security footage from the night Ms Higgins alleged Mr Lehrmann raped her.
Asked whether she had – or would – watch the interview, Ms Plibersek gave an emphatic, resounding “no”.
“I don’t want to watch it. I don’t want to platform Bruce Lehrmann, sorry,” she told Channel 7.
Asked whether she was interested in seeing “what went on behind the scenes”, including the footage never seen before, Ms Plibsersek doubled down.
“I don’t need to see that. I’m not deciding the case here. This has gone through the courts and the result is as the result is. It makes no difference whether I watch it or not,” she said.
During his interview, Mr Lehrmann said he had been “kicked to a kerb” by his colleagues.
“People were dropping me because I was politically inconvenient to be associated with,” he said.
He said he had been forced to “dip into” his mum’s superannuation and had been loaned money from his uncle.
During the interview, Mr Lehrmann was grilled by Liam Bartlett over why he and Ms Higgins had returned to Parliament House in the early hours of the morning after a night of heavy drinking.
Mr Lehrmann said he had “tried to be a gentlemen” and believed Ms Higgins also needed to return to Parliament House. Mr Lehrmann said he needed to return to his office to retrieve his house keys and to pull some notes together.
Security camera footage shows the pair entering the ministerial wing together before they are escorted to a lift.
Mr Lehrmann said the two had gone “their separate ways” once they reached Linda Reynolds’ office. Mr Lehrmann was pressed on why he hadn’t checked on Ms Higgins before he left.
“My mind was focused on getting my keys, noting down what I needed to note down and getting back to my girlfriend who had called a number of times,” Mr Lehrmann said.
Mr Lehrmann’s trial was forced to be abandoned due to juror misconduct.
The ACT Director of Public Prosecutions subsequently dropped the charge out of concern for Ms Higgins’ mental health.
Mr Lehrmann has always maintained his innocence.
Mr Lehrmann in his interview suggested he was looking at the “possibility” of suing Ms Higgins for defamation.