Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has apologised to Brittany Higgins for any hurt and distress she caused after reports she called her former staffer a “lying cow” in remarks to staff.

Senator Reynolds said she had never questioned Ms Higgins’ account of an alleged sexual assault in the minister’s office in March 2019. But she reportedly called Ms Higgins a “lying cow” in remarks to her staff when the alleged rape became public, which she has since said was in relation to news reports about her response to the incident.

“In response to a letter from Ms Higgins’ lawyers yesterday afternoon, discussions are now under way through our legal representatives in an effort to resolve this matter as soon as possible, with any resolution to include an apology,” Senator Reynolds said in a statement on Friday.

“However, in the meantime, I want to express how deeply sorry I am for these remarks and for any hurt and distress they have caused.”

Ms Reynolds’ statement comes after Ms Higgins demanded a public apology for the remark she made to staff in her ministerial office.

Ms Higgins asked her lawyers to issue the demand on Thursday and prepare defamation action if Senator Reynolds – her former boss – did not issue a complete apology for the “distasteful character assassination”.

Ms Higgins’ lawyer, Rebekah Giles of Company Giles, wrote a letter to Senator Reynolds on Thursday seeking the apology and saying the request constituted a “concerns notice” under defamation law to bring further action over the “lying cow” statement if necessary.

“This demeaning and belittling statement … is highly defamatory of our client’s good character and unblemished reputation,” Ms Giles wrote.


“The cavalier manner in which those words were spoken make it plain that they were not spoken privately or in confidence.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Senator Reynolds was right to offer an apology.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds is on medical leave.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds is on medical leave.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“I didn’t find that acceptable, the comments that were made within her office at the time,” he said.

“This was a comment made not in a public place. This was a comment made during a period which was very traumatic and very stressful. The minister deeply regrets saying these things and has offered an apology, as she should.”

Senator Reynolds has not denied she made the remark about Ms Higgins, who alleged last month she was raped by a colleague in the minister’s office in 2019. She has maintained she did not make the comments in relation to the rape allegation, saying she was commenting on news reports about her handling of the allegation.

The Defence Minister apologised to staff shortly after making the comment, and conceded it was “inappropriate and wrong” in a conversation with Mr Morrison on Thursday morning.

Asked whether the government would cover Ms Higgins’ legal fees, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said he was not aware of any request but “if I do, then we would assess that in accordance with all of the standard protocols”.

Questioned whether the Defence Minister should stand down, Senator Birmingham said: “It’s for Linda to resolve that apology to the satisfaction of Ms Higgins, and for Linda and all arms of government to do as we’ve committed, as we have always been willing to do, and that is to co-operate fully with police investigations into the alleged rape and assault of Brittany Higgins”.

“It was always Linda’s willingness and intent to co-operate fully, and I know it continues to be the case,” he said.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said Senator Reynolds’ statement “doesn’t cut the mustard” and repeated his assertion that her position was “untenable”.

National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line: 1800 737 732. Crisis support can be found at Lifeline: (13 11 14 and, the Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467 and and beyondblue (1300 22 4636 and

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Anthony is foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Katina Curtis is a political reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra.

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