Australian minister settles defamation case after slurring alleged rape victim

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds (left) apologised and settled the case with Ms Brittany Higgins. Details of the amount to be paid by Ms Reynolds were not disclosed. PHOTOS: LINDA REYNOLDS/FACEBOOK, SCREENGRAB FROM YOUTUBE

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia's Defence Minister settled a defamation case on Friday (March 12) with a former employee who was allegedly raped in her parliamentary office, after calling the woman a "lying cow".

Ms Brittany Higgins, 26, who last month came forward with allegations that she was raped by a colleague in the minister's office, issued a statement noting that Defence Minister Linda Reynolds had apologised and settled the case.

"I am pleased that the minister has now withdrawn her comments and I accept her apology to me," Ms Higgins said. "This has been an immensely challenging period for me and I wish to reiterate the only reason I have chosen to come forward is to help others."

Ms Higgins launched the defamation case after Ms Reynolds' comments to staff were leaked to the press.

The minister also released a statement on Friday retracting the comment and repeating an earlier apology.

"Given that the comment was made public, which I never intended, I also want to retract it and unreservedly apologise to Brittany Higgins and acknowledge the hurt and distress it caused to her," Ms Reynolds said.

Although details of the amount to be paid by Ms Reynolds were not disclosed, Ms Higgins said any money beyond her legal costs would be donated to an organisation that supports survivors of sexual assault.

The settlement follows weeks of pressure on Australia's conservative government over several revelations and allegations about the conduct of top officials in Canberra.

Ms Reynolds is just one of two senior Cabinet ministers currently on health leave after being caught up in separate rape allegations.

Attorney-General Christian Porter is accused of raping a 16-year-old fellow student in 1988, an allegation he denies.

The woman who made the allegation died last year of suspected suicide, effectively precluding a police investigation into the rape allegation.

Calls for an independent inquiry into her accusations have been rejected by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, fuelling criticism that a "toxic culture" pervades Parliament House.

Thousands are expected to attend protests around the country next Monday amid growing anger over the government's response to the various allegations.

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