Home Australia Tasmanian Premier calls on PM to ‘consider’ accusation Eric Abetz ‘slut-shamed’ Brittany Higgins

Tasmanian Premier calls on PM to ‘consider’ accusation Eric Abetz ‘slut-shamed’ Brittany Higgins

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Tasmania’s Premier has written to the Prime Minister, urging him to “consider” accusations Liberal senator Eric Abetz “slut-shamed” alleged rape victim Brittany Higgins.

In a written statement, Peter Gutwein said Tasmanian Speaker Sue Hickey told him several weeks ago that Senator Abetz had made offensive comments — which he has since strongly denied — but not to the level of detail raised in the state’s Parliament this morning.

Late on Wednesday, Mr Gutwein acknowledged Senator Abetz had denied making the comments.

But he added: “A few weeks ago Ms Hickey raised this matter with me but not to the level of detail that was in her statements today and did not make a formal complaint to me or request that I take any action.

“As Ms Hickey has outlined her allegations in more detail in the Parliament, this afternoon I have written to the Prime Minister and requested that he consider the matters raised.”

Addressing Tasmanian parliament on Wednesday morning, Ms Hickey said she wanted to clarify comments she made on ABC Radio Hobart on Tuesday, in which she said an unnamed senator had expressed disgust that Ms Higgins was drunk.

Ms Hickey said she had a conversation with Senator Abetz at a Hobart citizenship ceremony on March 1, in which she asked whether Attorney-General Christian Porter was at the centre of an historical rape allegation. Mr Porter has categorically denied the allegation.

“The senator quickly responded that yes … but not to worry, the woman is dead and the law will protect him,” Ms Hickey said.

Ms Hickey continued: “[Senator Abetz went on], ‘As for that Higgins girl, anybody so disgustingly drunk who would sleep with anybody could have slept with one of our spies and put the security of the nation at risk.'”

Ms Hickey told the chamber she was “disgusted” by Senator Abetz’s alleged comments.

“No-one, no matter how drunk or what they wear or where they walk at night, deserves to be sexually assaulted.

“I accept that these are deeply held views by the senator, however they are not endorsed by our wider community, who view this judgement as slut-shaming.”

Ms Hickey was told on Sunday she no longer had the support of the Liberal Party, and she is now sitting as an independent member for Clark.

In a statement, Senator Abetz said he “categorically denied” he made the comments.

“Ms Hickey’s defamatory allegations under parliamentary privilege are categorically denied. Allegations of rape are serious matters and have always been treated as such by me.

“Sexual assault is an issue on which I’ve been consistently outspoken, including domestic violence.

“Ms Hickey’s suggestions otherwise is simply false. As someone who was on the inaugural committee of a women’s shelter and its honorary legal adviser for a decade prior to entering parliament, I reject outright her suggestions and gross mischaracterisation of our discussion.”

Senator Abetz said it was “noteworthy Ms Hickey has made her assertions some three weeks after she alleges they occurred”.

“At no stage has Ms Hickey ever raised concerns with me about any of our conversations,” he said.

“Indeed, a fortnight later when we had a chance meeting in a coffee shop in Launceston, Ms Hickey actually offered to buy me a cup of coffee, which I politely declined because I was about to meet someone.

“What has changed? The Premier telling her on Sunday she was no longer wanted by the Liberal Party.

“On her way out the door she is trying to destroy the party — noting she has demeaned all her former female Liberal colleagues of parliament and especially the Attorney-General, the membership which initially endorsed her and even ‘unknown people.'”

Hickey claims ‘grubby politics’

Following Senator Abetz’s denials, Ms Hickey made a second statement to Tasmania’s Parliament, accusing the senator of lying, and saying she stood by her initial comments.

Ms Hickey said she was highly offended by Senator Abetz’s statement.

“Further to my statement this morning, Senator Eric Abetz has publicly accused me of making false allegations, in other words, lying about his comments,” she told the chamber.

“Instead, he suggested I made the statement out of revenge.

“As can be expected with Senator Abetz, he has responded with denial and very grubby politics.”

Ms Hickey said she had discussed the conversation with others, including senior members of the Liberal Party, and felt compelled to make her initial statement following Monday night’s Four Corners episode.

“This is why the women of Australia are angry, this is why they do not speak out,” she said.

“I have witnesses who can testify that I told them of the discussion at the event and immediately afterwards.

“His spiteful accusations today cannot be used as an excuse or a distraction.

“I call on him to be honest and apologise for his misogynistic views, no matter how deeply he believes them.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told federal Parliament the reported comments were repugnant, but said he could only refer to the absolute denial of them by Senator Abetz.

“The matter has been absolutely denied by Senator Abetz and that is a matter of public record and he will continue to serve in the role that he has,” Mr Morrison said.

The ABC has contacted the Tasmanian Liberals’ director for comment.

Hickey’s fractured party relations

Ms Hickey’s broken relationship with the Tasmanian Liberals came to a head on Sunday when Premier Peter Gutwein told her — over a cup of coffee at her own house — that she was not going to be preselected again at the next state election.

Ms Hickey blamed “men in dark suits” for her ousting.

She put her colleagues offside on her first day in parliament in 2018 after seizing the speakership with the support of Labor and the Greens.

She went on to vote and speak against her government colleagues on several occasions, including on laws that would allow Tasmanian parents to choose whether their child’s gender was recorded on their birth certificate.

Ms Hickey, the former Hobart mayor, has said she will campaign for the Tasmanian seat of Clark as an independent.

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