Bruce Lehrmann pulls out of ‘Restoring the Presumption of Innocence’ conference

Georgina Noack
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Bruce Lehrmann has pulled out of an appearance at a conference called Restoring the Presumption of Innocence.
Bruce Lehrmann has pulled out of an appearance at a conference called Restoring the Presumption of Innocence. Credit: Bianca De Marchi/AAP

Bruce Lehrmann has pulled out of a controversial conference on ‘Restoring the Presumption of Innocence’ the day after Justice Michael Lee found that, on the basis of probabilities, the former staffer raped Brittany Higgins in Parliament House in 2019.

Event sponsors Mothers of Sons announced on Tuesday that Mr Lehrmann, who was set to speak at the conference in June, had “decided not to appear”.

“He is being subject to extremely aggressive pursuit by the media and is concerned that his participation may threaten the audience, jeopardise this important event, and distract from its main purpose,” they wrote on Facebook.

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Their post says they had “accepted his decision, and will find an alternative presenter” for the June 1 event.

Mr Lehrmann was one of the drawcard speakers for the conference, organised by notorious “men’s rights” activist Bettina Arndt, who founded Mothers of Sons, and Australians for Science and Freedom — a group that “objected” to the government’s pandemic response.

In a promotional post for the conference shared on Arndt’s website, the #MenToo advocate declares the presumption of innocence has been “tossed aside”.

“It’s the perfect time to seize the moment, and bring together some of the real experts to tell the story of what is going on here. And to talk about what’s needed to achieve a fair system,” Arndt wrote.

Tickets to the June 1 event, to be held at an undisclosed location in the eastern Sydney suburb of Rushcutters Bay, are $110 for ASF members and $132 for non-members.

There have been calls from gendered and sexual violence advocates to cancel the event, including a petition from What Were You Wearing which has gained more than 6300 signatures.

The petition calls on independent MPs Allegra Spender and Alex Greenwich — who represent the Federal seat of Wentworth and State seat of Sydney, respectively, where the conference will take place — to “put a stop to this event”.

Mr Lehrmann withdrew from the event after he sensationally lost his defamation claim against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson over a watershed 2021 interview on The Project in which Ms Higgins first alleged she had been raped in the office of their boss, then-defence minister Linda Reynolds in 2019.

Although Mr Lehrmann was never named in the interview, he claimed the piece still identified him.

LEHRMANN DECISION
Lisa Wilkinson gave extensive evidence in the defamation trial with Bruce Lehrmann. NCA NewsWire / Gaye Gerard Credit: News Corp Australia

Mr Lehrmann launched defamation proceedings against the ABC, news.com.au, Ten and Lisa Wilkinson, for their reporting on the allegations.

He later settled his claims with News Corp Australia and the ABC for a combined $445,000 in payouts to cover his legal costs, but pursued The Project through a defamation trial that sparked a maelstrom of headlines.

During the trial, Ten relied on defences of qualified privilege and truth, seeking to establish the “substantial truth” of the main allegations that Ms Higgins had been raped.

On Monday, Justice Lee found the evidence had proven Ten’ truth defence, and said he was “satisfied that it is more likely than not that Mr Lehrmann’s state of mind was such that he was so intent upon gratification to be indifferent to Ms Higgins consenting.”

“Mr Lehrmann raped Ms Higgins,” Justice Lee said.

“I hasten to stress this is a finding on the balance of probabilities. These findings should not be misconstrued or mischaracterised as a finding that I can exclude all reasonable hypotheses consistent with innocence.”

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