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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has delivered a stinging slap-down to any Coalition MP who leaked against the female diplomat caught up in the Jamie Briggs affair, amid fury among senior government figures over the scandal.
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Why Jamie Briggs was in Hong Kong
Only one thing is certain about the mystery night out that cost Jamie Briggs his portfolio, it wasn't what he was in Hong Kong to do. Courtesy ABC News 24.
Mr Turnbull told Fairfax Media that the publication of a picture – even in pixelated form – along with the woman's job title and age would deter victims of sexual harassment from coming forward.
"Publishing the identity of a complainant in a case like this not only infringes their privacy, it serves actively to discourage other women who are concerned about the conduct of a superior from raising a complaint in the future," he said.
"I urge all parties to respect the public servant's privacy."
It is understood the Prime Minister was deeply angered by the leaking and subsequent publication of the photo of the woman, taken on the now infamous night in Hong Kong.
The leak appeared designed to undermine claims Mr Briggs had behaved inappropriately and came despite Mr Briggs resigning four days earlier.
The photo was published in The Australian alongside text messages to Mr Briggs' chief of staff, Stuart Eaton. One message did not raise the inappropriate behaviour and another, sent three days later, said she wanted to discuss "Friday night".
Mr Turnbull's office rang media outlets last week urging them not to identify the woman and Fairfax Media understands the Prime Minister rang a senior News Corp executive directly asking him not to publish.
Mr Turnbull said that from the outset he had "sought to ensure the privacy of the public servant concerned has been protected". The woman had made it clear she wanted to remain anonymous, it is understood.
The photo shows the embassy official, a woman in her 20s who had dined with Mr Briggs and then joined him in a bar afterwards, posing with Mr Eaton. The picture was taken on Mr Briggs' phone. He has denied leaking it but admitted he had "sent it to a few people prior to the complaint and following".
One senior government figure branded as "shocking" Mr Briggs' decision to forward the photo to colleagues.
Mr Briggs resigned as cities minister after his interaction with the young woman while drinking in a Hong Kong bar during a ministerial visit in late November.
His office did not return calls on Monday.
He reportedly told her she had "piercing eyes" and kissed her either on the cheek or neck.
Fairfax Media understands the woman called colleagues that night to express her dismay at Mr Briggs' behaviour, undermining the suggestions from the leaked text messages that she had not been upset.
It is also understood that Mr Briggs did not actually apologise to the woman until after he had been interviewed by the independent investigator assigned by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Sara Charlesworth of RMIT University, who has conducted ground-breaking research into sexual harassment, said the leaks against the woman would discourage victims from reporting incidents.
"Things like this have a really dampening effect on people's preparedness to come forward … and to make formal complaints when things are more serious," she said.
Professor Charlesworth said the leaking of the photo and text messages reminded her of the treatment of Kristy Fraser-Kirk, who successfully sued David Jones and its former chief executive, Mark McInnes, for sexual harassment in 2010.
"When I got hold of the newspapers at the weekend, it brought back entirely what had happened under the David Jones case," Professor Charlesworth said. "As soon as she'd made her complaint, stuff started coming out about her, what had happened to previous jobs. It was precisely put there to denigrate her and render her less credible."
She said it was "terribly disappointing that this has played out the same way again".
"I did find it totally gob-smacking but entirely predictable that [the public servant] now becomes the object of suspicion."
She said that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade seemed to have "behaved entirely appropriately".
The woman did not lodge a formal complain about Mr Briggs but rather made a note about it that found its way to department secretary Peter Varghese. Mr Varghese informed Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop.
An inquiry was subsequently carried out.
A spokeswoman for the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, which enforces privacy rights, indicated the woman may have a valid complaint to make.
Asked whether the woman's privacy had been breached, the spokeswoman said: "The Privacy Act 1988 provides all Australians with a variety of privacy rights. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner encourages any person who believes their privacy has been breached to lodge a complaint."