Dutton staffer at drinks before alleged rape
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton's press secretary Austin Wenke was at the work drinks that Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins attended before she was allegedly raped.
News.com.au understands that Mr Dutton's press secretary, who has been handling journalists calls over the case, knew the man that Ms Higgins claims raped her in March 2019.
Mr Wenke was potentially one of the last witnesses to see Ms Higgins and her alleged attacker before they attended Parliament House.
Mr Wenke was part of the final group of four including Ms Higgins, her alleged attacker and another woman who ended up drinking at a cocktail bar.
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Mr Wenke and the other person got in one cab and Ms Higgins and her alleged attacker got in another.
There is no suggestion that he was aware of the alleged rape at the time or afterwards, but he has been contacted for comment.
Asked if Mr Wenke had disclosed his attendance on the night Mr Dutton declined to comment.
"As the Minister conveyed publicly this morning, Brittany Higgins has now made a formal statement to the police and the matter is now under investigation," his spokeswoman Nicole Chant said.
"The Minister won't be making any further comment in relation to the matter."
Mr Wenke is one of three press secretaries working for Mr Dutton who have been asked for comment by news.com.au, Nine/SMH newspapers and Network Ten for several days.
Earlier, Mr Dutton has described the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins as a "he said, she said" affair revealing for the first time he tipped off the Prime Minister's office about the alleged rape at Parliament House on February 12 but his staff kept Scott Morrison in the dark.
On the same day that news.com.au first contacted the Prime Minister's office about the scandal and confirmed the story would be published on Monday, February 15, it has now emerged that Mr Dutton's chief of staff also contacted the office.
But the Prime Minister, who maintains his government is not running a "don't ask, don't tell" policy, was not told until news.com.au published the story - despite his office being tipped off by the media inquiry and Mr Dutton's chief of staff for three days.
Mr Dutton, a former drug squad cop, said he made the call not to tell the PM directly.
"I took a decision that I wasn't going to disclose that to the Prime Minister. I think that was the right decision,'' he said.
"And when the media inquiries came in, we provided information, not to his office about the detail, the detail of the allegation, it was at a higher level, which is the basis on which I was briefed by the AFP Commissioner, more in terms of process, as the commissioner advised me at the time.
"And there are other matters, unrelated to this, obviously, that I was briefed on during that discussion with the commissioner on the 11th.
"And I wasn't provided with the 'she said/he said' details of the allegation. It was at a higher level."
There are arguably no "he said, she said" issues with the alleged rape because police are yet to interview the man at the centre of the claims.
Despite speculation that Defence Minister Linda Reynolds may be forced to resign from the portfolio Mr Dutton said now was not the time for such speculation.
"I haven't had an update this morning. I sent a message to Linda yesterday,'' she said.
"I think all of us, as Penny Wong did graciously yesterday, but others in the media as well, want Linda to get well as quickly as possible.
"These are all high-pressure jobs. And Linda has been under pressure over the course of the last couple of weeks, and she obviously has a pre-existing medical condition. She's done the right thing in seeking medical attention for that. And I hope that she's back at work as quickly as possible."
It follows Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie calling for her to stand down and be replaced by Mr Dutton.
Mr Dutton also revealed the details surrounding his chief of staff informing the Prime Minister's office on February 12, the same day news.com.au contacted the office about the story.
"On the 12th, the following day, though, there were media inquiries that came into the Government. And I formed the judgement at that stage that my chief of staff should inform the Prime Minister's Office, which took place,'' he said.
"And that's what happened on the 12th.
"And as I say, I was provided with information from the Federal Police Commissioner in an in-confidence briefing. I honour the relationship that I have with the Australian Federal Police Commissioner and I don't compromise that. I don't seek to compromise the integrity around his investigations. And if I don't need to disclose something, I don't.
"I think the Prime Minister has been very clear about his frustration and anger at the fact that he wasn't provided with information earlier by his office.
He's been very clear to the Parliament and to the public about that as well, and you would expect him to be angry. A mistake was made. He wasn't informed by his office, and he's sought to rectify that, and there's now obviously an investigation that's under way."
Originally published as Dutton staffer at drinks before alleged rape