Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has questioned Scott Morrison's claim that he had only recently been made aware of the alleged rape at Parliament House, saying it is "inconceivable" that he didn't know.

It emerged this week that young Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins was allegedly raped by a colleague at Parliament House in 2019.

The allegations prompted Prime Minister Scott Morrison to push for an investigation into workplace culture at Parliament House.

Since broke the story, Mr Morrison has faced a barrage of questions over why he didn't know about the shocking allegations sooner.

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Brittany Higgins claims she was raped by a colleague in Parliament House.
Brittany Higgins claims she was raped by a colleague in Parliament House.

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The PM has claimed his office found out about the sexual assault claims when called them at 2.30pm on Friday and he only became aware of the alleged incident when the story broke at about 8am on Monday.

However, Mr Turnbull has pushed back against this timeline, telling ABC News Breakfast it was hard to believe the Prime Minister wasn't informed sooner.

"I find it incredible. That's to say very, very, very hard to believe, that the Prime Minister's Office would not have been aware of that incident as soon as it occurred. And would not have been aware of the complaints that Brittany was making.

"I mean, if they weren't, it was a complete failure of the system."

Mr Turnbull suggested that sometimes the Prime Minister's Office will use discretion in what they choose to tell the PM but said in a situation like this, it is unlikely he wouldn't have been informed.


Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull questioned Scott Morrison’s claims he only found out about the rape allegations on Monday. Picture: Kym Smith
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull questioned Scott Morrison’s claims he only found out about the rape allegations on Monday. Picture: Kym Smith


"An incident like this, you know, major security breach, very distressed young woman found there in awful circumstances then she files a complaint that she's been raped. I mean, I find it inconceivable that that wasn't well known to at least key members of the Prime Minister's staff," he said.

"And if it wasn't, there was clearly an absolutely baffling breakdown in communications."

During a press conference on Tuesday, Mr Morrison said he was "not happy" to learn that Defence Minister Linda Reynolds learned nearly two years ago that Australian Federal Police were investigating a potential sexual assault but never told him.

The AFP called her to tell her of the investigation into an alleged sexual assault and she had met with the complainant, her staffer Ms Higgins.

Yesterday, Mr Morrison was asked, "Do you have some sort of 'don't ask, don't tell' policy? Why did you not know until recently that there was an alleged sexual assault?"

In response, he said he was unimpressed was that he had not been told earlier.

"That is a very valid question and I can assure you that there is no such policy and I'm not happy about the fact that it was not brought to my attention, and I can assure you people know that,'' he said.

"I can assure you people know that."


That afternoon he faced even more questions about why he wasn't made aware of the allegations, with the PM revealing he had informed his staff that he needed to be told about any similar allegations in the future.

"People know. And they should know and these are issues that I would hope would come to my attention. And that is one of the many things that I've asked the deputy secretary of the PM&C to look at as we work through the issue that has to be worked through and we want to make sure that those systems are up to the standard,'' he said.

When asked why Senator Reynolds didn't inform him of the incident when it occurred, Mr Morrison said he understood a "judgment" was made about the balance of protecting Britney's privacy at the time.

"That judgment can certainly be commented on and be judged, but that was my understanding of what occurred at that time," he said.

"I want to stress again, that this awful incident, this terrible incident. Those who were around Brittany were endeavouring to help her. As I said, with the passage of time, clearly that was not effective. And I accept that."

Ms Higgins' allegations have put the spotlight on the workplace attitudes at Parliament, with Mr Turnbull saying there was a real cultural problem that needs to be addressed.

"It's one thing to be distressed and indignant. It's one thing to be very empathetic with the position of Brittany Higgins, and I've got no doubt that the Prime Minister is," Mr Turnbull told ABC.

"But the critical thing is that things have got to change. And everybody knows there is a cultural problem in Parliament. You know, I've described it at other times as reminding me of the corporate culture in the 1970s.

"It's completely out of step with modern Australia and contemporary standards."

Originally published as 'He had to know': Turnbull slams PM