Scott Morrison has been accused of “weaponising” a confidential sexual harassment complaint to shield himself from scrutiny.
The Prime Minister called a press conference on Tuesday to express his disgust at the “rubbish and crap” endured by women in politics.
Mr Morrison said he was horrified by stories that had emerged over the past month and declared attitudes towards women must change.
He choked back tears while talking about the women in his life, promising: “I will not let you down.”
But the prime minister’s empathy turned to retaliation when Sky News political editor Andrew Clennell asked whether he had lost control of his ministerial staff.
Mr Morrison responded by airing details of an internal sexual harassment complaint he claims occurred at News Corp. He warned the senior journalist to “be careful”.
“Right now, you would be aware in your own organisation, there is a person who has had a complaint made against them for harassment of a woman in a women’s toilet,” Mr Morrison said.
“And that matter is being pursued by your own HR department. So let’s not, all of us who sit in glass houses here, start getting into that.”
Labor politicians seized on his comments.
Opposition frontbencher Tanya Plibersek accused Mr Morrison during Question Time of using the confidential complaint to dismiss questions about himself.
“Is it any wonder victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment in this building and around Australia are afraid of coming forward when the prime minister of this country uses a confidential complaint in a nationally televised media conference as a way to try to stop journalists asking questions about these important issues?”
Mr Morrison said that was not what he was doing and insisted he had referenced the News Corp complaint in “an anonymised way”.
“I was simply making the point that the problems that we are experiencing in this country are not confined simply to the offices of member and senators and ministers in this place,” he said. “They go well beyond that.”
Earlier, Labor’s Katy Gallagher said Mr Morrison’s News Corp harassment comments were “weaponised [as] a defensive strategy to make up for his own failings”.
“It’s no wonder women are so angry because you say one thing and then the Prime Minister goes out and retaliates like that when he’s questioned,” she told a Senate committee.
“What about the woman at the heart of that complaint now? [She is] national news.”
During his earlier press conference, the prime minister was pressed on how he knew nothing about the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins inside a ministerial office for more than two years, yet somehow knew of a private complaint in a media company.
“That was brought to my attention late last night, and the issue of Brittany Higgins was only brought to my attention on February 15,” he said.
“The suggestion was made by a member of the press gallery that things like this don’t happen in the media, and I think that would be unfair.”
Mr Morrison was also asked whether he raised the alleged incident in the media against the wishes of the complainant, but provided no direct response.
Senior cabinet ministers who knew about the alleged rape of Ms Higgins have repeatedly claimed they did not escalate her complaint due to privacy concerns.
Additional reporting by SBS News.
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