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AFP chief says brief of evidence expected soon in Higgins rape case

Politics

ACT police are preparing to provide a brief of evidence to prosecutors within coming weeks after an investigation into rape allegations inside Parliament House.

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Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw on Tuesday updated the status of its probe into former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins’ sexual assault allegations.

“I have been informed by the ACT chief police officer that a brief of evidence is likely to be provided to the director of ACT public prosecutions in the coming weeks,” he told Senate estimates.

Kershaw also took aim at critics of the police response to the March 2019 incident, saying suggestions the AFP had taken a backward step risked dissuading victims from coming forward.

“It would be a travesty if that was to occur,” he said.

In response to a question on notice from Labor senator Kristina Keneally, the AFP also revealed Peter Dutton’s office was told in October 2019 about the incident.

“In October 2019 AFP Media notified the then minister’s office in relation to a media enquiry received by ACT Policing, about an alleged sexual assault at Parliament House,” they said.

The AFP confirmed direct contact with Dutton was not made until February 11 this year, backing up the senior cabinet minister’s account.

“The AFP Commissioner had a discussion with the then minister about the matter,” the police’s media unit said.

“In accordance with routine practices, AFP Media has informed the minister’s office about media inquiries received in relation to this matter during 2021.”

Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Phil Gaetjens, who is investigating who in Scott Morrison’s office knew about the allegation and when, is facing questions in a separate hearing.

Gaetjens paused his inquiry after speaking with Kershaw about the potential for overlap with police work.

The top public servant has now resumed his probe and expects to complete his work within weeks.

“I’ll finish as soon as possible,” Gaetjens told parliament.

Labor is concerned about a cover up after Gaetjens said it would be up to the prime minister whether the report would be made public.

He is yet to interview Higgins, but says he plans to shortly after she asked to be involved.

Kershaw said ACT Policing had told him there was no problem with crossover between the two investigations.

“Mr Gaetjens did make the right call in suspending his inquiry but I did want to make sure there was no problematic intersection with the criminal investigation,” he said.

Steps are underway to set up an independent complaints process for serious incidents in the parliamentary workplace.

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