Peter Dutton defined the Higgins allegations as “he said, she said”. He just successfully sued a Twitter user for questioning his stance on sexual assault.
CW: The following piece discusses sexual violence.
Today, Peter Dutton has his day in court, winning against Shane Bazzi, a refugee activist who called him a “rape apologist” on Twitter. As the ABC put it, “The now-deleted tweet was accompanied by a link to a story published in The Guardian in 2019, containing comments Mr Dutton made about women on Nauru when he was Home Affairs Minister.”
At the time, Dutton was objecting to laws that allow critically ill refugees and asylum seekers to get treatment in Australia when he claimed that many of the 1,000 or so brought to Australia were not actually sick. Per The Guardian, “Peter Dutton’s claim that pregnant rape victims on Nauru were ‘trying it on’ by seeking abortions in Australia and then changing their minds is an appalling act of politicisation and victim-blaming, federal politicians, advocates and lawyers for the women have said.”
“Some people are trying it on,” Dutton said. “Let’s be serious about this. There are people who have claimed that they’ve been raped and came to Australia to seek an abortion because they couldn’t get an abortion on Nauru. They arrived in Australia and then decided they were not going to have an abortion. They have the baby here and the moment they step off the plane their lawyer’s lodge papers in the federal court, which injuncts us from sending them back.”
Flash forward to 2021, and Dutton cited that the reason he pursued Bazzi was that the tweet “went against who I am, my beliefs. This went to a different level. It was hurtful and I was offended by it. I do not believe this is a freedom of speech issue.”
In February, Peter Dutton entered the conversation regarding Brittany Higgins, as according to estimates by the ABC’s 7.30 program last night, there appear to be thirty or more people with knowledge of the so-called “serious incident” in 2019, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison conspicuously excluded from the circle of knowledge. One of them was Peter Dutton.
Dutton is, among other things, the minister responsible for the Australian Federal Police, as well as having once served as a police officer in the Queensland Police sex offenders’ squad. You need this background as the context for what comes next.
In keeping with the government line that neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor the Prime Minister knew anything about the alleged rape before February 12 2021 and February 15 2021 respectively, Dutton claims he was only informed of the alleged crime by the AFP on February 11 2021, and only because they had been alerted that the matter was about to be revealed by the media.
AFP guidelines require that “politically sensitive” matters such as this alleged crime be reported to the Minister as soon as possible. The AFP first became aware of the allegations on April 4 2019, when informed by Defence Minister, Linda Reynolds. The AFP did not inform Minister Dutton at that time. Indeed, according to Dutton, the AFP did not inform him of this “politically sensitive” incident, despite being required to do so by their guidelines, for another two years.
One might be forgiven for risking the observation that “politically sensitive” and “politically embarrassing” might be interchangeable concepts in this instance.
Amazingly, Dutton also failed to inform the Prime Minister that the excrement was about to hit the ceiling fan, not alerting his office until 24 hours later. Dutton then went on to describe the rape allegations as a “he said, she said” affair.
“He said, she said” is one of the most invalidating dismissals possible of allegations of rape and sexual assault. It implies, as it is intended to, the unworthiness of a woman’s word and description of her experience. “He said, she said” intentionally minimises the experience of rape and sexual assault, and explicitly favours the narrative of the alleged perpetrator. It is appalling that a former police officer, who worked with victims, would hold and voice this opinion.
In the words of Justice Richard White, when handing down the ruling, said that tweet was defamatory and it implied Mr Dutton was a person who excused rape.
“I consider that the ordinary reasonable reader would have understood Mr Bazzi to be asserting that Mr Dutton was a person who excuses rape and that the attached link provided support for that characterisation of him,” he said.