AFP’s strongly worded letter to PM
Australia's top police officer has sent a strongly worded letter to the PM in the wake of the Brittany Higgins rape scandal, warning politicians delays in reporting crimes can seriously damage investigations and risk the perpetrator reoffending.
The alleged rape of Brittany Higgins in parliament has brought the process for reporting crimes into sharp focus.
Australian Federal Police commissioner Reece Kershaw sent a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday, warning MPs of the risks of failing to report crimes.
"I cannot state strongly enough the importance of timely referrals of allegations of criminal conduct," he wrote.
"Failure to report alleged criminal behaviour in this manner, or choosing to communicate or disseminate allegations via other means, such as through the media or third parties, risks prejudicing and subsequent police investigation."
Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins alleged she was raped in 2019 by a colleague in the parliamentary office of her then-boss Linda Reynolds.
Senator Reynolds said she encouraged Ms Higgins to go to the police when she learned of the alleged crime, as did Ms Higgins' subsequent boss Michaelia Cash.
Ms Higgins met with the AFP in 2019 but opted not to pursue an investigation at that time.
But the government is facing scrutiny over its internal reporting mechanisms, with revelations Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton found out about the allegation four days before the Prime Minister said he knew.
Mr Dutton joined a group including Ms Reynolds, Ms Cash, House Speaker Tony Smith, and Senate President Scott Ryan, who knew about the alleged rape before Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Former Special Minister for State Alex Hawke was also contacted over the termination of the male staffer.
Mr Morrison said on Wednesday he would have approached the situation in the same way as his ministers had he been informed earlier.
"My action would have been the same as those ministers' actions. That is to say: has the matter been drawn to the attention of the police?" he said.
"The answer to that question was, yes, it had."
Two other women have subsequently claimed they were also raped by the man, with one of the alleged attacks occurring last year.
Mr Kershaw warned failing to report crimes could embolden a perpetrator to taint evidence or even strike again.
"Any delay in reporting criminal conduct can result in the loss of key evidence, continuation of the offending and/or reoffending by the alleged perpetrator," he said.
"It also has the very real potential to compromise the rights of victims and other parties to the alleged offences.
"By not adhering to this process, there is a real risk that any alternative actions by individuals may lead to obstructing, preventing, perverting or defeating the course of justice or the administration of law."
Mr Morrison passed Mr Kershaw's letter on to House Speaker Tony Smith and Senate President Scott Ryan, telling them MPs must understand their duty to provide "compassionate support" to victims seeking to come forward.
"These are serious and traumatic events for anyone to deal with … It is important that members, senators and their staff feel fully empowered and supported to take the actions recommended by the commissioner," he wrote.
Both letters were circulated to MPs via parliament's sergeant-at-arms.
Ms Higgins on Wednesday filed an official complaint over the alleged rape to the AFP, which was investigating the matter.
Mr Morrison stressed his confidence in law enforcement's ability to appropriately handle the case.
"They are best placed as a result of their experience and training to deal with the acute sensitivity of these issues on those reporting these matters," he wrote.
Originally published as AFP's strongly worded letter to PM