'Cheap, nasty' Reynolds involved in cover-up: Wilkinson

Liberal Senator Linda Reynolds has been accused in court of being knowingly involved in a systemic cover-up to keep Brittany Higgins' rape allegations secret.

On Thursday, journalist Lisa Wilkinson told the Federal Court she "read between the lines" in her discussions with Ms Higgins regarding how her rape complaint had been treated.

Wilkinson said she believed Ms Higgins' boss Senator Reynolds and acting chief of staff Fiona Brown were taking orders from the prime minister's office and it followed they were "knowing participants in a systemic cover-up".

Liberal senator Linda Reynolds (file image)
Senator Linda Reynolds has been accused in court of being knowingly involved in a systemic cover-up.

“You’d agree that would be wicked conduct?” Justice Michael Lee asked.

“Yes," Wilkinson replied.

The Ten journalist said after someone from The Canberra Times asked Parliament House about Ms Higgins being allegedly raped on Senator Reynolds' couch, the story somehow disappeared.

“That sounds to me like a cover-up,” she said.

Senator Reynolds has vigorously denied covering up the rape allegations, and said she had been the target of unwarranted criticism and abuse since the scandal became public.

Wilkinson said she "totally believed" Senator Reynolds and Ms Brown wanted to make sure that Ms Higgins was OK but they chose their words carefully being in a "bit of a minefield" with a federal election looming.

Lehrmann is suing Network Ten and Wilkinson for defamation over a February 2021 report on The Project that aired Ms Higgins' claims.

Ms Higgins claims she was raped in the office of her then-boss Senator Reynolds in the early hours of March 2019.

Lehrmann has always denied any sexual contact occurred.

Lawyer Matthew Richardson and Bruce Lehrmann (file image)
Mr Richardson (centre) suggested Wilkinson 's Logies speech was "reckless and ill-advised".

Wilkinson said The Project report didn't say Senator Reynolds or Ms Brown had themselves pressured Ms Higgins not to go to the police.

"That was pressure that Ms Higgins was putting on herself because she understood the way that Parliament House worked, the machinations of power plays and being a team player.”

The segment did not portray Ms Brown as a terrible human being, Ms Wilkinson said, and showed signs she was caring. 

Ms Brown has issued a concerns notice to Network Ten flagging a potential defamation suit over the broadcast, the court heard.

Wilkinson said Senator Reynolds' decision to meet Ms Higgins days after the alleged rape in her office - where the sexual assault was purported to have occurred - was "deplorable".

During a meeting with Ms Higgins and Ten producer Angus Llewellyn in January 2021 before The Project report was aired, Wilkinson said she had Senator Reynolds "in her sights" and recounted a social media stoush the two of them had in February 2019.

“What she had done publicly, I considered pretty cheap and nasty," Wilkinson said about that stoush.

At that same meeting, Wilkinson said "alarm bells" rung when Ms Higgins inferred her phone had been remotely wiped by the government.

She denied suggestions by Lehrmann's barrister Matthew Richardson SC this should have made her question Ms Higgins' reliability, instead saying it made her see the alleged rape survivor as a "very scared young woman".

Lisa Wilkinson (left)
Wilkinson (left) disagreed she put her pride and ego ahead of Lehrmann's right to a fair trial.

She said she had spoken to Mr Llewellyn about the phone issue and also escalated her concerns to two other senior members in the team but was told it had been investigated and was a "non-issue".

The journalist rejected Mr Richardson's propositions she prioritised her "pride and ego" giving a "reckless and ill-advised" speech in June 2022 as The Project won a silver Logie for the Higgins report.

The speech was made eight days before Lehrmann's criminal trial over the alleged rape was due to begin and resulted in it being postponed because of fears her comments could have influenced potential jury members.

Lehrmann was charged in August 2021 over the alleged rape, but his trial in the ACT Supreme Court was derailed by juror misconduct.

Prosecutors did not seek a second trial, citing concerns for Ms Higgins' mental health.

Lehrmann is also before Queensland courts accused of raping another woman twice in Toowoomba in October 2021.

He has not entered a plea, but his lawyers have indicated he denies the charges.

1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028

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