Former political staffer Bruce Lehrmann has settled his defamation case against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
In 2022, another former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins made a speech at the National Press Club in Canberra in which she claimed Mr. Lehrmann sexually assaulted her. The ABC broadcast that speech on the night.
Although the details of the settlement are yet to be released, the ABC hinted at the details in a statement.
“The proceedings have settled on mutually acceptable, confidential terms, without admission of liability,” the statement read.
In a separate case, proceedings against Channel Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson will continue at a court in Canberra, with Mr. Lehrmann suing both for defamation.
Mr. Lehrmann’s counsel Matthew Richardson SC maintains that although there have been a wide range of defamatory accusations made, those publicised by Ms. Wilkinson and Channel Ten have done the most damage to Mr. Lehrmann’s reputation.
“Our client comes here seeking vindication for the defamation that has utterly destroyed him,” Mr. Richardson said.
“The publication that seared this allegation of rape into the national consciousness was the TV interview.”
Mr. Richardson was referring to Ms. Wilkinson’s hosting of Ms. Higgins on Channel Ten’s “The Project” in 2021, in which Ms. Higgins outlined her version of events.
Ms. Wilkinson was later awarded a Logie for the interview.
Although Mr. Lehrmann was not explicitly named in the interview, he claims he was identifiable from the details given by Ms. Higgins and that anyone working in their office at the time could easily identify him based on the program.
Mr. Lehrmann has said that Ms. Higgins’ interview on The Project caused a large burden for him in his personal life, particularly his mental health.
“I shut down my Facebook, my Instagram, my Twitter, LinkedIn as well,” Mr. Lehrmann said.
“It sent me into a deep spiral. That coupled with mainstream media, what was happening on social media, contributed to my admittance to Royal North Shore and then to Ramsey Northside clinic, and some significant mental health struggles in the early parts there,” he added.
“I observed not only being removed from group chats, but people either blocking me … my total number of friends on Facebook reduced, meaning people had unfriended me.”
Mr. Lehrmann has already settled a defamation case with News.com.au journalist Samantha Maiden, who broke the story.
Timeline of EventsThe saga surrounding the case started in late March 2019 when Ms. Higgins and Mr. Lehrmann, both working as political staffers in the Morrison government, were found to have entered Parliament House in the early hours of the morning.
Mr. Lehrmann was found to have left the premises an hour later without Ms. Higgins.
Later that morning, Ms. Higgins was found partially naked on a couch in former Defence Minister Linda Reynolds’ office.
At the time, Mr. Lehrmann was working as a high-paid senior advisor for the Liberal Party, earning $200,000 annually. Ms. Higgins worked as a media advisor for Ms. Reynolds.
Later in 2019, Mr. Lehrmann was terminated from his role while Ms. Higgins moved to a new role with current WA Liberal Senator Michaelia Cash.
The incident was kept concealed from the public eye until Nov. 9, 2020, when an ABC Four Corners episode titled “Canberra Bubble” was aired, detailing the workplace culture among public servants and staffers in Canberra, particularly those in the Morrison government.
Neither Ms. Higgins nor Mr. Lehrmann are mentioned in the episode. However, it did put significant pressure on the then-Coalition government, which was exacerbated by Ms. Higgin’s allegations.
In early February 2021, Ms. Higgins resigned from her job with Senator Cash as a result of personal trauma spurred by the actual incident in 2019.
Then on Feb. 15, 2021, both Ms. Higgins’ interviews with News.com.au and The Project were aired and published, prompting former Prime Minister Scott Morrison to apologise to Ms. Higgins in Parliament before commissioning two formal reviews into the Coalition’s workplace culture.
Much later in October 2022 and after months of radio and TV appearances from Ms. Higgins, formal proceedings began at the ACT Supreme Court, in which she accused Mr. Lehrmann of sexual intercourse without consent.
Mr. Lehrmann pleaded not guilty.
After weeks of hearings, a number of witnesses, and multiple periods of deliberation from the jury, a mistrial was declared after a juror presented their own privately conducted research to fellow jurors.
The trial was then relisted for February 2023 but never materialised.
This was mainly due to the former Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold deeming it an unacceptable risk to Ms. Higgins’ mental health to continue with proceedings.
“I have recently received compelling evidence from two independent medical experts that the ongoing trauma associated with this prosecution presents a significant and unacceptable risk to the life of the complainant,” Mr. Drumgold said.