Former Finance Minister Mathias Cormann revealed he was briefed on the Brittany Higgins CCTV footage but didn’t know about the alleged rape.
Former Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has revealed he was briefed on CCTV taken on the night Brittany Higgins was allegedly raped five months ago but never knew it involved an alleged assault.
The CCTV tracks Ms Higgins’ movements on the night of the alleged incident and the movements of the man who took her to Parliament.
It was the subject of extensive negotiations between police and Parliament’s presiding officers, who didn’t want to release it without agreement.
It was in this context that Mr Cormann was briefed as Senate leader on October 16, 2020 but he says he only knew it involved a security breach, not a potential crime.
Mr Cormann, who was recently elected the next secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) after leaving federal politics last year, was asked on ABC’s 7.30 what he knew about Ms Higgins’ case before he departed.
“I was not aware of what is alleged to have occurred back when the events occurred, but shortly before I left, I was made aware by the President of the Senate (Scott Ryan) of an incident,” Mr Cormann said.
“I wasn’t aware of the full detail.”
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7.30 host Leigh Sales asked whether he probed for further details.
“Well, no,” Mr Cormann said.
“As I say, I wasn’t aware back at the time in any shape at all, at the time of the alleged incident.
“Shortly before I left, I was made aware of some DPS (Department of Parliamentary Services) footage having been maintained and I think that is something that (new leader of the Senate) Simon Birmingham has actually also indicated to you.”
Sales continued: “You were the Leader of the Senate, a rape allegedly occurred in a senator’s office. In June last year the Senate President asked the inspector general of intelligence and security to take a look at CCTV footage from the night of that incident. The Finance Department … knew of the late-night access and the possible security breach and you were a very powerful figure and nobody thought to tell you?”
Mr Cormann answered: “I was not aware of an alleged rape back then.
“The finance department has made very clear that I was not briefed in relation to matters that were the purview of the Special Minister of State at the time, which wasn’t me.
“Furthermore, I’m not even sure that the Finance Department knew at the time that there was such an allegation.”
Sales asked whether the Finance Department had been treating it as a “security breach”, “is that what you are saying?”.
“You are going well beyond my state of knowledge,” Mr Cormann said.
“As I indicated to you, I had no knowledge at the time at all. The Finance Department has made it very clear that they did not provide me of any briefings at the time, even of the alleged security breach. I certainly had no knowledge at all of any alleged rape at the time.”
Ultimately, the Parliament agreed to store the CCTV footage and release it to police only if a formal complaint was made. As a result of Ms Higgins restarting the police case last month it can now be provided to police under the agreement.
Mr Cormann’s secret briefing on the CCTV was first flagged by Finance Minister Simon Birmingham on February 24.
“So I only became aware of the alleged rape when the media story became public,” Senator Birmingham said.
“I had been made aware at an earlier point in relation to the storage of CCTV footage about an incident that the AFP had shown interest in.
“The President of the Senate had advised me, as I understand, he had previously advised the then leader of the government in the Senate and the leader of the opposition in the Senate in accordance with practises just around those CCTV issues.”
However, until now Mr Cormann has not detailed the extent of his knowledge.
He stressed he never knew about an alleged rape until news.com.au broke the story on February 15.