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Election plot, hygiene fears tested in Lehrmann defamation case

Fiery claims of an election scheme, concerns about a recorded conversation, and a live stream viewer fed up with the judge’s coughing closed out the second week of Bruce Lehrmann’s case.

user iconNaomi Neilson 04 December 2023 Big Law
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Ahead of a three-day break for Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation trial against Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson, Brittany Higgins was challenged on the timing of her The Project interview and public comments she made about Linda Reynolds and Michaelia Cash.

Mr Lehrmann claimed The Project interview defamed him and has strenuously denied allegations made on air by Ms Higgins that he allegedly raped her in Parliament House on the morning of 23 March 2019.

Counsel for Mr Lehrmann, Steven Whybrow SC, suggested Ms Higgins asked The Project and Ms Wilkinson to hold off on airing the interview so it could be shown around a sitting week to affect the outcome of the 2022 federal election.


Ms Higgins rejected this and described that while she is not anymore, at the time she was “Liberal through and through”.

“I had no intention of impacting the election, but I did want to change the culture of Parliament House,” Ms Higgins said.

“I was angry at the way my rape had been handled.”

Ms Higgins added she did not “have that big of an ego” to assume her interview could “change the course of an election.”

She did admit to asking to have the interview aired before the sitting week so the story “would get as much traction as possible.”

“I was really concerned that I had blown up my life for a story that would run for a day,” Ms Higgins told the Federal Court.

Before the interview, Ms Higgins told the Federal Court she worked for Ms Cash and had told both Ms Cash and her chief of staff about the alleged incident when she became aware of a media inquiry.

However, given Ms Cash has disputed having knowledge of the alleged rape, Mr Whybrow challenged Ms Higgins on the conversations she said she had with them.

“I suggest you didn’t tell her about this,” Mr Whybrow said.

“That is completely incorrect,” Ms Higgins said in response.

Ms Higgins said she “adored” Ms Cash and insisted the minister had been “really supportive” after she learnt about the alleged incident.

On Thursday (30 November), Ms Higgins told the court Ms Cash immediately “embraced me in a hug” and assured her they would handle the media inquiry by making it go away.

In a voicemail over the following weekend, Ms Cash told Ms Higgins they were “with you every step of the way”.

On the day the Senate was to be told about the media inquiry – which would ultimately not go ahead – Ms Higgins said Ms Cash took her to an event off-site, “which was strange during a sitting week.”

Following this, Ms Higgins admitted to secretly recording a conversation she had with Ms Cash, which she told Mr Whybrow had been done for her own “legal protection”.

Ms Higgins accepted she also shared this recording with a friend “for safekeeping” and offered it to The Project.

During his cross-examination, Mr Whybrow touched on comments Ms Higgins made about Ms Reynolds and chief of staff Fiona Brown.

Ms Higgins previously told the court she had a “massive amount of distrust” in the office, including with Ms Brown, in the week after the alleged rape and claimed Ms Reynolds “actively avoided me”.

Ms Higgins clarified she did not blame Ms Brown because “she was just following instructions” and while Ms Reynolds may have avoided her, “I do not count them as villains in this story”.

On Thursday, Ms Higgins also told the court she was told by Ms Reynolds her alleged rape was “just something women go through”.

Ms Higgins said she thought this “indicated that she had gone through something similar”.

“I thought she was making some sort of reference or disclosure that she had also gone through something similar,” Ms Higgins said.

During Thursday’s hearing, Justice Michael Lee gave live stream viewers several warnings he could shut down the public’s ability to view the court due to concerning social media activity.

But on Friday, there was a much lighter tone to the live stream.

Justice Lee read into the courtroom an email he received from a viewer who observed him “coughing into your right hand” and was surprised he still did so “post the COVID-19 publicity”.

“Your coughing habits are disgusting … Make every effort to improve your personal hygiene,” Justice Lee said to laughs from the bench.

Responding to the viewer’s request he stand down, Justice Lee said he would not, “but I feel suitably chastened and will seek to improve”.

Later, during his cross-examination, Mr Whybrow coughed and immediately added “for the record, that was me.”

To more laughs, Justice Lee said: “Thank you, I didn’t want to get into more trouble than I already am.”

The hearing will resume next Tuesday.