Leave the hat, Linda

The best thing Linda Reynolds could do for her reputation is to drop her defamation proceedings against Brittany Higgins

To borrow a phrase from Justice Michael Lee, Senator Linda Reynolds is going back for her hat. The outgoing Liberal senator has made it clear that she will be continuing her defamation case against rape victim Brittany Higgins and her partner David Sharaz over social media posts, while also suggesting she has been vindicated by Bruce Lehrmann’s failed one. Justice Lee found that – on the balance of probabilities – Lehrmann had raped Higgins in Reynolds’ office, but he dismissed the idea (not strictly relevant to Lehrmann’s case) of a political cover-up, singling out Reynolds’ former chief of staff Fiona Brown as someone who been hard done by. Reynolds, who has long viewed herself as the true victim, is seemingly hellbent on having her honour restored, demanding Higgins pay for her “destroyed” reputation and “lost” career. But is suing a rape victim, whom Reynolds famously labelled a “lying cow”, really the best way to restore her reputation, or that of the Liberal Party?

Has Reynolds really been “vindicated” here, as Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has triumphantly claimed? Journalist Samantha Maiden, who first broke the Higgins story, notes that Reynolds did not give evidence in the recent trial, unlike Brown, who was expressly praised by the judge. If Reynolds had, there might have been some questions over inconsistencies in her accounts, having told the 2022 criminal trial that she hadn’t been told of a potential rape ahead of a meeting in her office, but later telling Seven’s Spotlight that she had (her lawyers put this down to “a recall of further information”, when Maiden first picked up on it). Brown is actually praised in Lee’s judgement for having later resisted pressure to report the rape without Higgins’ consent, believing Reynolds and others were “intent on protecting their own interests”, as Maiden points out. But all Reynolds sees is vindication, as she pushes ahead with plans to punish Higgins for making her look bad.

Here’s the thing: If Reynolds truly believes she has been vindicated, why go ahead with defamation proceedings? Why continue to drag out this horrific saga (as News Corp also seems hellbent on doing), and not for a minute pause to reflect on what has been done in this collective bid to discredit and destroy a young women who alleged she was raped (and has been credibly found to have been)? Reynolds claims to be “pleased” with Lee’s findings, noting that they are not binding on her own case. “I therefore remain committed to fully vindicating my reputation,” she added. But if this was truly about her reputation, why continue down a path that makes her look nasty and spiteful, dragging Higgins through the courts yet again? Why go back for the hat?

Reynolds is clearly incensed at the way this has played out, having become a key fall person for the Liberal Party’s very real woman problem. But the senator’s obsession with seeking redress, at the expense of a traumatised woman we have just heard was (on the balance of probabilities) raped at work, makes her claims to have been concerned with Higgins’ welfare appear utterly ludicrous. Reynolds’ single-minded focus has seen her lose sight of what is actually most harmful to her reputation, and that of the Liberal Party, with neither appearing to have spared a thought for the victim in recent days. Much like with her decision to do an exclusive sit-down with Higgins’ chief doubter Janet Albrechtsen, making insinuations about Higgins having stolen her coat, the senator’s bid to seek damages is only doing further damage to her public standing.

It has been joked in recent days that Bruce Lehrmann should sue Bruce Lehrmann for defamation, having done irreparable damage to his own reputation. Perhaps Reynolds might like to take note. No hat or coat is worth the trouble when your reputation is on the line.

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