Wilkinson’s Logies speech ‘OK’ due to Drumgold silence

Miklos Bolza |

Ten’s lawyer cleared Lisa Wilkinson’s Logies speech after a chief prosecutor raised no objection.
Ten’s lawyer cleared Lisa Wilkinson’s Logies speech after a chief prosecutor raised no objection.

An in-house lawyer for Ten says a significant reason for her approval of Lisa Wilkinson’s controversial Logies speech on Brittany Higgins’ alleged rape was a failure of prosecutors to raise concerns.

In an affidavit released publicly on Friday, Network Ten’s senior litigation counsel Tasha Smithies described how she green-lit the speech by Wilkinson, who interviewed Ms Higgins for a February 2021 report on The Project.

Wilkinson read out a portion of the speech during a meeting with then-ACT director of public prosecutions Shane Drumgold on the day of the Logies in June 2022.

Shane Drumgold (file image)
“It’s not our place to advise you, or approve a speech,” Shane Drumgold allegedly said. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

The purpose of the meeting was for prosecutors to discuss what Wilkinson could expect as a witness in the criminal trial of Bruce Lehrmann, who was accused of raping Ms Higgins in Parliament House in March 2019.

“I have been nominated for a Logie … I don’t think I will win,” Wilkinson allegedly told Mr Drumgold during the meeting.

“However, I have prepared a speech just in case.”

The chief prosecutor stopped the journalist part-way through her reading of the draft, Ms Smithies said.

“I am not a speech writer. It’s not our place to advise you, or approve a speech,” Mr Drumgold allegedly said.

Ms Smithies said this statement played a role in her approval of Wilkinson’s final version of the Logies speech.

“Even though I understood that it was not the DPP’s role to give legal advice, the fact that Mr Drumgold did not object to any part of the speech read by Ms Wilkinson in the DPP meeting … was a significant factor that influenced my advice that the speech was OK for Ms Wilkinson to give,” she wrote.

Brittany Higgins and Lisa Wilkinson (file image)
Wilkinson’s support of Ms Higgins was already well-known and widely reported, Ten’s lawyer said. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)

Ms Smithies said she felt the speech was “sufficiently vague” as it did not directly refer to Lehrmann, the trial or the program.

It also did not deviate from what had already been reported publicly, she wrote.

“Ms Wilkinson’s views on the matter and her support of Ms Higgins were already well-known and widely reported.”

Wilkinson’s speech was the reason Lehrmann’s criminal trial, which was due to start at the end of June 2022, was delayed for four months.

At the time, ACT Chief Justice Lucy McCallum said she made the decision to vacate the trial dates “regrettably and with gritted teeth” after finding the contents of the speech created a serious risk of prejudicing a jury.

“What can be known is that … the distinction between an untested allegation and the fact of guilt has been lost,” the judge wrote.

Mr Drumgold in May told an ACT inquiry into the justice system’s handling of the rape allegations that he cautioned Wilkinson about making the speech, but he conceded he should have given her a clearer warning at the time.

Bruce Lehrmann (file image)
Lehrmann’s defamation case has already run for over a year with the trial lasting more than 30 days. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)

The trial was eventually aborted because of juror misconduct, while a retrial was abandoned by prosecutors over fears for Ms Higgins’ mental health.

Lehrmann has denied any sexual contact occurred.

The 28-year-old has sued Ten for defamation over The Project report, claiming the broadcast destroyed his reputation.

A Federal Court hearing on his claims has concluded with judgment reserved.

On Wednesday, Ten was ordered to pay at least part of Wilkinson’s legal costs after the network initially opposed her decision to hire separate legal representation for the defamation case.

An email from May 2023 from Wilkinson’s lawyers shows her senior counsel, leading defamation barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC, charges an hourly rate of $800, while partners from her law firm Gillis Delaney charge $750.

Lehrmann’s defamation case has already run for over a year with the trial lasting for more than 30 days.

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AAP