Defense Minister Linda Reynolds could face a defamation case if she doesn’t apologise for calling her former staffer, alleged Parliament House rape survivor Brittany Higgins, a “lying cow”.
The Australian reports that lawyers have contacted Reynolds asking for an apology for the “malicious” and “demeaning” remarks which she made last month in front of staffers in her office, shortly after Higgins went public with her allegations of being raped inside Reynolds’ Parliament House office by another staffer.
“Self-evidently, this demeaning and belittling statement, in which you refer to our client as a member of the animal kingdom and declare her to be untruthful, is highly defamatory of our client’s good character and unblemished reputation,” Higgins’ lawyer Rebekah Giles wrote in a latter to Reyonlds.
“The cavalier manner in which those words were spoken make it plain that they were not spoken privately or in confidence.
“You are also aware that this distasteful character assassination of our client has been republished widely causing her immense hurt and distress.”
The Guardian reports that Higgins and her lawyer, Giles, are now demanding an “immediate and unequivocal” retraction of the comments, as well as an apology.
Giles has experience with these sorts of cases. After all, she’s the same lawyer who represented Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young in her defo case against former libertarian crossbencher David Leyonhjelm, and won big time.
The letter also noted that while Reynolds has apologised to her staff, she has not not actually apologised to Higgins herself about the comment.
It said that Higgins is “appalled” that Reynolds’ apology wasn’t extended to her, too.
According to Reynolds, the the “lying cow” remark has somehow been taken out of context.
“I have never questioned Ms Higgins’ account of her alleged sexual assault and have always sought to respect her agency in this matter,” Reynolds said in a statement on Wednesday.
“I did however comment on news reports regarding surrounding circumstances that I felt had been misrepresented.”
However, Higgins publicly said that the “incredibly hurtful” comments were just “further evidence of the toxic workplace” inside Parliament House.
“I appreciate that it has been a stressful time but that sort of behaviour and language is never excusable,” she said.
Regardless of the outcome of this particular stand-off, it’s clear that Reynolds used a really, really shitty choice of words, and now she’s facing the consequences of that.
Help is available.
If you require immediate assistance, please call 000.
If you’d like to speak to someone about sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online.
Under 25? You can reach Kids Helpline at 1800 55 1800 or chat online.