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Higgins takes stand in Lehrmann defamation case

Brittany Higgins is giving evidence in the case brought by Bruce Lehrmann against Network Ten. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)

By Jack Gramenz and Miklos Bolza in Sydney

BRUCE Lehrmann says he paid a late-night visit to Parliament House to avoid getting his then-girlfriend out of bed on the night Brittany Higgins alleges she was raped there.

A barrister for the broadcaster Lehrmann is suing says the former Liberal staffer has provided various lies on the subject.

He was criminally charged in August 2021 in relation to Ms Higgins’ allegation that she was raped in the parliamentary office of senator Linda Reynolds in March 2019.

Lehrmann denies the allegation, and his criminal 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 suing Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson in the Federal Court, claiming their interview with Ms Higgins on “The Project” in February 2021 defamed him.

A deliberate, conscious and careful decision was made not to name Lehrmann in the report that Ten’s barrister Matthew Collins KC says was not about him.

The theme of the program and most of its time was devoted to exposing alleged inadequacies in how Ms Higgins’ allegations were managed by the previous government, Dr Collins said.

The public interest in the report was “amply demonstrated” by following events including a review into parliament’s workplace culture, which reported in November 2021.

Lehrmann had been criminally charged by then but did not read that report.

But he heard then-prime minister Scott Morrison apologise to Ms Higgins in his “stupid parliament speech” months later, he told the court on Tuesday.

Dr Collins said Lehrmann had given a range of lies about his reasons for being in Parliament House with Ms Higgins after the pair had been out drinking.

It came after Lehrmann finished a four-day stint in the witness box on Tuesday afternoon, when his barrister asked him why it was so important to go back to Parliament House to get his keys as he had claimed.

Bruce Lehrmann is continuing to give evidence in the defamation trial over a report on The Project. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)

Lehrmann cited the cumbersome nature of getting into his building, which would have required his then-girlfriend to get out of bed.

“Did she know you had ‘kicked on’, to use your expression,” Justice Michael Lee asked.

“I’m not sure, I can’t remember now, Your Honour,” Lehrmann responded.

In addition to the broadcast program, Lehrmann alleges Wilkinson acted in a “high-handed and reckless manner” and prejudiced his approaching trial in a speech she made at the Logies in June 2022.

Lehrmann later gave interviews with rival media company Seven Network and said the Logies speech and the associated delay afforded his lawyers the opportunity to dig deeper.

He disagreed when Wilkinson’s lawyer Sue Chrysanthou SC suggested he thought the delay saved him from conviction, and maintained he had been prejudiced.

Lehrmann said Seven Network paid for accommodation in locations where the filming took place, but told the court he did not know how much it had cost.

Ms Chrysanthou said the payments were to continue from June this year until June 2024.

Lehrmann has settled separate defamation proceedings against News.com.au and the ABC over their reports about Ms Higgins’ allegations.

He is also before a Queensland court accused of raping another woman twice in Toowoomba in October 2021.

An attempt to maintain the suppression of his identity following law changes in Queensland was rejected in court, with Lehrmann’s interviews on Seven’s Spotlight program sinking his bid to keep his name out of the headlines.

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

Ms Higgins watched on as Dr Collins and Ms Chrysanthou set out the defence cases on Tuesday afternoon before briefly stepping into the witness box, describing how she began working in politics after campaigning at university.

“I wanted to work my way up the ranks,” Ms Higgins said.

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