Former Morrison government staffer Brittany Higgins plans to reactivate a police complaint about an alleged sexual assault by a colleague in the ministerial wing of Parliament House in March 2019.
Higgins, a former adviser to the defence minister, Linda Reynolds, also plans to lodge a separate complaint with the finance department.
Guardian Australia understands Higgins, who alleges she was raped by a colleague in Reynolds’ ministerial office, also wants ACT police to be given access to CCTV security footage from inside the ministerial wing from the night of the alleged assault – footage she says she has not been permitted to view herself.
The alleged assault was first reported by news.com.au on Monday. Labor immediately demanded answers from Reynolds and other senior figures about what support had been given to the staffer, who was in her mid-20s and held a junior advisory role at the time of the alleged incident.
The Department of Parliamentary Services told the Guardian on Monday the Australian Federal Police (AFP) accessed “relevant security camera footage relating to this incident” in April 2019.
A department official said footage from the night of the alleged assault had been “stored on an ongoing basis at the direction of the presiding officers and with the agreement of the AFP for their access as required for any investigation”.
The official said CCTV at parliament house captured corridors, entrances and public areas “but does not exist in any internal offices”.
With Labor demanding answers, and with Higgins due to appear in an extended television interview on Monday night, the government said appropriate support had been given to the young staffer at the time she reported the alleged rape.
But Reynolds declined to answer some specific questions from the opposition on the basis that there was, as the defence minister put it, “an open AFP inquiry”.
Higgins went to the police after the alleged assault but the staffer decided not to proceed with the complaint in April 2019.
In an email Higgins sent to the police on 13 April 2019, seen by Guardian Australia, she stated she had decided “not to proceed any further” with the complaint because “it’s just not the right decision for me, personally, especially in light of my current workplace demands”.
Confidants say Higgins paused the complaint at the time because she was concerned that pursuing it might lead to her losing her job as a parliamentary adviser. Higgins confirmed this during an interview with Network Ten on Monday night. “I realised my job was on the line,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I had a choice.”
ACT police confirmed Higgins had paused the complaint in 2019. In a statement issued on Monday, police said the “investigation remained open but did not progress at that time as a result [of the complainant declining to proceed]”.
Police said that if the complainant “wishes to proceed, ACT policing will assess the case and make a decision about whether there is sufficient evidence”.
Higgins’ supporters say the former staffer intends to reactivate her police complaint and make a separate complaint about the alleged incident and the aftermath to the finance department.
On Monday night, Higgins said the handling of her complaint by Reynolds and senior staff, including some in Scott Morrison’s office, made her feel as though she had created a political problem for the government.
“There is a strange culture of silence in the parties and you just don’t ... the idea of sort of speaking out on these sorts of issues, especially around [an election] campaign, is just like letting the team down, you are not a team player,” Higgins told Ten.
She said after choosing to try and persist with her career rather than quit, she was sent to Western Australia to work on the federal campaign. She said she felt isolated and “alone”. Higgins said her treatment “felt intentional”.
Reynolds, who was the defence industry minister at the time of the alleged assault, was on Monday pressed in the Senate about whether her handling of the complaint had been appropriate.
During the grilling in question time, the defence minister said she had debriefed with her former staffer in her ministerial office – the location of the alleged assault – after the fact because she did not know, initially, that was where the alleged assault had occurred.
Earlier on Monday, the government had released a statement acknowledging that having a conversation about the alleged rape in the office was an “oversight” that was “regretted”.
Reynolds said later on Monday, however, that she was not aware the conversation with Higgins and her then-chief of staff was to be about an alleged assault. “At that first meeting, I was unaware of the circumstances of the alleged incident,” she said.
Labor’s Senate leader, Penny Wong, then asked Reynolds: “Can the minister explain how she can claim she was unaware of the alleged assault at the time of that meeting, given the meeting took place after Ms Higgins had reported the alleged assault to the minister’s chief of staff?”
The defence minister declined to make further comment on the basis there was an “open AFP inquiry” that she did not want to prejudice.
Higgins said on Monday night there was “no way” Reynolds would not have known she was allegedly assaulted on a couch in the office – the same room where the debriefing took place on 1 April 2019.
She said Reynolds had raised the option of going to the police, but the conversation felt like “a weird HR ticking-a-box moment” rather than a genuine conversation about her welfare.
Higgins said it became hard to raise the assault with the then chief of staff, Fiona Brown, or with Reynolds, because “it was dismissed, it was played down and it was made to feel like it was my problem”.
The former staffer said the alleged perpetrator had lost his job in the office shortly after the incident but had not suffered adverse professional consequences in his life after politics.
• If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au