The ACT director of public prosecutions says the Brittany Higgins investigation is currently back in the hands of the Australian federal police, contradicting both the AFP commissioner, Reece Kershaw, and the home affairs minister, Karen Andrews.
During an appearance at the National Press Club on Wednesday, Kershaw was asked for an update on the Higgins matter.
“I have been on the public record on this,” Kershaw said. “It is a matter with the ACT DPP right now so it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment any further.”
Higgins, a former Liberal staffer, alleges she was raped by a more senior colleague at Parliament House in March 2019.
Given the investigation process seems to be taking a lengthy period of time, Andrews was also asked for an update during a radio interview in Brisbane on Wednesday. “Well my understanding is that there has been a brief that has been put through to the DPP.
“So it is being looked at now and evaluated as to whether or not charges can be laid, which would take into consideration a range of factors including the likelihood of a conviction.
“So that’s going through its process now. But look, the sooner that this gets resolved, I think for everyone concerned – particularly for Brittany Higgins – but everyone who has been affected by this, the better.”
Guardian Australia contacted the ACT DPP to clarify the status of the Higgins investigation on Thursday.
A spokeswoman for the ACT director of public prosecutions Shane Drumgold said: “In response to your question, please note that the director forwarded his advice to the AFP on Monday 28 giugno 2021, and the matter currently rests with the AFP.
“On Monday 21 giugno 2021 the ACT DPP received a partial brief of evidence and a request to provide advice for consideration of prosecution.
“The director of public prosecutions provided that advice to the Australian federal police on Monday 28 June 2021”.
The spokeswoman said the content of that advice is subject to legal professional privilege, and therefore, cannot be disclosed.
While it is unclear what is happening behind the scenes with the investigation because of the contradictory information – Higgins this week welcomed the Morrison government’s decision to adopt an independent complaints mechanism for serious incidents in Parliament House, which is the central recommendation of the Foster review.
After Higgins went public with her story, the prime minister asked a deputy secretary in his department, Stephanie Foster, to undertake a review of the parliamentary workplace. The Morrison government has accepted all 10 findings of the review.
The national furore that followed Higgins’ rape allegation also triggered a separate review being undertaken by Australia’s sex discrimination commissioner, Kate Jenkins that will report late in 2021.
Foster’s review found the existing system of human resource management in the parliament failed to set clear standards for MPs and staff, was not accountable and lacked an independent complaints mechanism. It recommended that a serious incident team be developed to deal with sexual assault.
The Jenkins review is continuing to interview former parliamentary staff and other interested parties, and will report by the end of this year. In interim guidance, the Australian Human Rights Commission confirmed that 345 people have either made submissions or have been interviewed by the Jenkins review, con 72% of respondents identifying as female and 28% identifying as male.
People making submissions include current and former parliamentarians, current and former members of staff and volunteers and interns.