Brittany Higgins has passionately told a barrister the whereabouts of her dress was not a primary concern "as I was being raped".
The heated cross-examination exchange followed the woman being questioned for multiple hours in the Federal Court witness box on Thursday.
Ms Higgins is testifying in Bruce Lehrmann's civil trial against Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson over a story on The Project in 2021 that aired Ms Higgins' allegation of being sexually assaulted two years earlier.
Steven Whybrow SC, representing Mr Lehrmann, is cross-examining the woman, as he did during her ACT criminal trial in October.
The court took a 15 minute break late in the day, with Ms Higgins in tears, as Ten's barrister, Matthew Collins KC, said: "I'm concerned about the welfare of the witness."
'As I was being raped'
The woman's patience with being repeatedly asked about her changing account of whether or not she had been wearing a dress during the alleged assault, and later that morning, eventually ran out.
"I suggest to you it's a significant matter because it immediately follows your alleged sexual assault," Mr Whybrow said.
Ms Higgins responded: "Well, as I was being raped, it was not my primary concern where my dress was."
"I was deeply more concerned about the penis in my vagina that I didn't want there. I wasn't concerned about my dress in that moment."
Tearing up, the woman said she did not ask herself "where is my dress" when she awoke to vomit in the ministerial suite bathroom.
Mr Whybrow: "Ms Higgins, you understand that I am asserting that is a fabrication - that you were sexually assaulted?"
Ms Higgins: "I understand that is your assertion. It's insulting, but I understand it."
Earlier, the court heard a security guard has previously given evidence she found Ms Higgins naked in Minister Linda Reynold's office on the morning of March 23, 2019.
That evidence contradicted Ms Higgins' previous account that she was still wearing, but was not fully covered by, a dress. She admitted on Thursday this was an assumption.
"I was so traumatised after the rape. I was aware of my nakedness but not full nakedness. I just assumed it was still scrunched up," she said in cross-examination.
"But I completely accept the evidence of the security guard that I had no dress on ... I just have to accept the evidence of someone who was in a more sober mind than I was."
Mr Whybrow suggested Ms Higgins altered her narrative after discovering the security guard's account to fit in with other evidence, which she denied.
As Mr Lehrmann watched on from one of the public gallery's furthest away seats, the woman admitted having been "overwhelmed" and "bamboozled" during her criminal trial.
"As you find out further information, you adapt and evolve your narrative to fit the new information. Do you agree with that?" barrister Steven Whybrow SC, representing Mr Lehrmann, asked
Ms Higgins responded: "No, but I accept where I'm wrong and try and apply it in every weird circumstance I end up in to give the most honest answer I can."
She admitted she "wasn't always correct" in giving evidence and "I did speculate to an extent".
"I acknowledge that I got things wrong. I did my best," she said
Mr Whybrow asked: "You understand your obligation is to tell the truth?"
"I thought I was telling the truth," Ms Higgins responded, accepting she was wrong about "some significant matters".
A bruise and a panic attack
The barrister pressed the woman, who at one stage stated that "memory is imperfect", on a number of topics where it appeared she had given conflicting accounts.
Ms Higgins admitted she had wrongly told The Project a leg bruise photographed in the days after the alleged incident was definitively caused by Mr Lehrmann.
She said now, "with hindsight", she could not be certain it hadn't been caused by a fall on the same night.
Mr Whybrow then pressed the woman about evidence she had given the day prior about missing the start of former minister Steven Ciobo's valedictory speech because of a panic attack.
"I'm trying," she said at one point, holding her face.
The barrister said: "I want to suggest this evidence you gave yesterday about the panic attack being after lunch and you missed the valedictory speech, or the start of it, is an example of you altering your narrative when you find out further information."
Ms Higgins denied this but conceded she had misremembered the sequence of events from that day but knew that certain things had occurred.
"You want a third go at when and why you had an anxiety attack on that day?" Mr Whybrow asked.
Ms Higgins responded: "I can't remember every moment of every day. I'm doing my best here."
The unfinished book
Ms Higgins told the court she would donate any proceeds from a book memoir which remains unfinished.
"You have a financial interest in the outcome of these proceedings?" Mr Whybrow asked.
The woman threw her hands up in the air and told the Federal Court: "I declare it now, if I ever actually ever finish the book, I will donate all two-hundred-and-whatever to charity."
"I don't care about the money. Take it as an oath," Ms Higgins said.
READ MORE ABOUT THE TRIAL:
- Higgins 'couldn't scream like you see in the horror movies'
- 'Defriended': Lehrmann 'booted out of group chats after allegations aired
- 'Did you seek consent?": Lehrmann denies barrage of allegations
- Higgins set to give 'graphic and distressing evidence' in trial
- Lehrmann accepts he lied in television interview
- Lehrmann settles defamation dispute with ABC
It has been previously reported Ms Higgins signed a $325,000 book deal, with over $216,000 outstanding, to tell her story.
"I told them to put it on pause because there was all these legal processes going on ... at the moment it's tentatively on hold," she said.
"It may happen one day but also I may never want to do this again."
The Project interview, which aired Ms Higgins' allegation, did not name the former Liberal staffer turned law student.
However, Mr Lehrmann claims several of the program's details identified him and that producers did not take reasonable steps to contact him for a right or reply.
Mr Lehrmann has always denied raping or that any sexual conduct occurred with Ms Higgins at Parliament House in 2019, when the pair worked as staffers for the then-defence industry minister.
No findings have been made against him.