Anthony Albanese has always placed a high premium on loyalty to his political allies, but that loyalty will be put to the test next week when parliament returns and Katy Gallagher is in the spotlight.
The growing questions over what the finance minister knew about Brittany Higgins’ rape allegations and when she knew them are not going to go away.
The cavalcade of leaks over the last week of previously confidential audio recordings, text messages and other information about the matter was exactly what Higgins feared when she initially resisted handing her phone over to the police.
Higgins accused Lehrmann of raping her, a charge he vehemently denies. The trial was later aborted and the charges dropped. Lehrmann is now suing media outlets for defamation.
The leaks have sought to shine an unflattering spotlight on the main players and the journalists involved in reporting the original rape allegations in February 2021, and on Higgins and especially her fiance, David Sharaz.
In the exchanges, Sharaz and Higgins discuss how to handle the TV interview on Network Ten’s , which went to air on February 15, 2021, how to keep the story running in the media, which journalists to approach and, crucially, which Labor MPs – including Albanese, Gallagher and Tanya Plibersek – to discuss the story with.
The texts reveal how the sausages got made, and it isn’t always pleasant.
At one point, Sharaz reportedly observes “I still hate that c—” in reference to former prime minister Scott Morrison.
It is not exactly surprising that MPs, in this case opposition Labor MPs, had been approached with material that could potentially damage their opponents – this happens regularly.
Sharaz saw an opportunity to appoint himself the strategiser and approached senior figures such as Albanese and Gallagher, two experienced political operators who would not have needed a former Sky News producer to tell them asking some questions might be a good idea.
But approach them he did – and in Gallagher’s case, according to the leaked text messages from Sharaz to Higgins, it appears Sharaz contacted the Labor senator on February 11 to make her aware of the rape allegations that would air four days later, on February 15.
That’s a problem for Gallagher because of an exchange that occurred a few months later during a Senate inquiry.
In a fiery exchange involving Gallagher and Labor’s Penny Wong, then defence minister Linda Reynolds claimed Gallagher was told two weeks before the Higgins allegations were made public “what you were intending to do with the story”, a reference to Higgins’ alleged rape in Reynolds’ office.
We now know the person claimed to have passed the information to Reynolds was the deceased Labor senator Kimberley Kitching. But Gallagher and Wong have always denied Reynolds’ claim, and Albanese stood by both women over the matter.
Gallagher fired back at Reynolds: “No-one had any knowledge. How dare you. It’s all about protecting yourself.”
The leaked text messages from Sharaz to Higgins suggest he told Gallagher ahead of time and that she was “really invested” in the story. So how did Gallagher have no foreknowledge of the rape claim?
That’s the question the finance minister has not answered – and at the moment it looks like Gallagher, one of Albanese’s closest allies, has misled parliament.
On Friday, Albanese backed her 100 per cent.
But the opposition can smell blood in the water and the prime minister now faces the first real political controversy of his time in office, which will escalate next week when parliament returns.
At the very least, Gallagher needs to give a much more detailed explanation about what she knew and when she knew it.
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