NATALIE BARR: Back home now where Finance Minister Katy Gallagher has gone on the defensive rejecting claims she misled parliament or weaponised Brittany Higgins rape allegation. That is despite the Minister admitting she did know about the claim before it became public. The Coalition mounted an attack on the Government during Question Time yesterday pressing ministers on what they knew and what they did with the claims. For more, I'm joined by Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil and Liberal Senator Jane Hume Good morning to both of you. Jane, Katy Gallagher was defiant, denying she misled the Senate. She has big time supporters like the Treasurer. Can we put this to bed?
JANE HUME: Well, news has come to light now, Nat, that Katy Gallagher, Gallagher's evidence to the Senate is inconsistent with the new revelations that have come out from audio files and also from leaked text messages between David Sharaz and Brittany Higgins. All we're after finding out now is what the Minister knew and why her testimony to the Senate has differed from that. Now, there's a lot of considerations here. I know people are talking about how this information came into the media, and certainly the media has a lot of considerations to make. There has to be respect for the parliament. There has to be respect for the courts. There has to be respect for the law. But that information is now out there. Media, journalists have to make decisions about whether it's in the public interest. They've already made that decision. Now that information is out there, the onus is on us to make sure that the evidence that this minister gave to parliament is consistent with that new evidence that's out there.
NATALIE BARR: Yeah Clare, Peter Dutton says this is an open and shut case that she did mislead Parliament. This is a serious charge and there should be an investigation. What do you say to that?
CLARE O’NEIL: Now Katy gave a really clear explanation of her actions to the Parliament yesterday and I don't intend to add to that. I think it's really important to remember here that the subject matter at the heart of this is that a young Liberal staffer was allegedly violently sexually assaulted, by another Liberal staffer in a Liberal minister's office some 100m or so from Scott Morrison's office, who was prime minister at the time. These events happened in 2019 Nat and there has been a report that has never been released about what Scott Morrison knew, what his office knew at the time, what Linda Reynolds, the, employer of this young woman knew at the time. Now, what I can just say to you is that we've been in government for a year and we were elected with a really clear mandate to try to clean up the toxic culture for women who work in Parliament House, where Jane and I are right now, and it's really important that we continue that work. I would like to focus on that and I would love Jane and the opposition to come with us, because what really matters here is women's safety in this building. And that is something that is widely understood as not being well handled by the former government. We are trying to change that.
NATALIE BARR: Yeah so there are a few -.
JANE HUME: Clare, unlike you, I'm actually on the taskforce that is cleaning up this workplace for women. And in fact the report you're talking about was ceased. There is no report because there's a criminal investigation underway. What we want to understand now is whether this Labor minister was in fact complicit in politicising this event, because that is unforgivable. Not only that misleading Parliament is a serious offence, it's a sackable offence and standing by this minister, if she has misled Parliament, has consequences.
CLARE O’NEIL: Yes. So you were in the Senate, You were in the Senate yesterday when Katy went through what had happened here. And what I'd really like to understand from you is how is it that two years after this event, you are trying to rake this over the coals and make this somehow the problem of the current government when we were not even in government, not for years after this event occurred-
NATALIE BARR: Because it’s just come out Clare.
CLARE O’NEIL: The real issue here is Jane, the fact is the fact that a woman was allegedly sexually assaulted in our workplace. And I would really like to focus on that as the main issue here because that is the subject that matters.
NATALIE BARR: Clare, we have great sympathy for those allegations. Of course we do. We do. No one has been convicted of a crime. The AFP are investigating the release of those texts. These issues are separate to the allegation that Katy Gallagher, the Finance Minister, has misled the parliament. So the Opposition is saying you guys are muddying the waters because this has to be addressed too. So Clare, should there be an investigation into that issue?
CLARE O’NEIL: Yeah, so Nat, I can absolutely categorically tell you that Katy answered these questions in the Senate yesterday.
JANE HUME: She didn’t.
CLARE O’NEIL: And she has not misled parliament. She has not misled the parliament. That is absolutely clear. She went through in detail and answer to the allegations. And what I think is really sad about this situation is the heart of this matter is unreported sexual violence in our country. And what we have is a bunch of women listening to this conversation right now, many of whom who've been citizens, the sexual assaults themselves, they are not going to the justice system, because they do not want to lose control of their story and have, you know, the matter smeared in this way, and I think it's really awful that that’s happening for this matter.
NATALIE BARR: That is separate. That is horrific, and it is separate to this allegation. Jane, last word here, because we have to go.
JANE HUME: The most important thing that we could do now is clarify exactly what it is that this Minister knew, and when she knew it, because quite frankly, if this young woman and this man came to her and said that they were going to go public with this information, did she in fact, advise her to go to the police instead? Because surely, surely that would have been the better outcome. There are no winners here, no winners here. But if this minister has misled the Senate, there should be serious consequences. It's a sackable offence.
NATALIE BARR: Okay, well, thank you both. We appreciate your time. We'll see you next week.