Prime Minister Scott Morrison says under-fire Defence Minister Linda Reynolds “deeply regretted” calling Brittany Higgins a “lying cow”.
Senator Reynolds is facing calls to resign after she responded to, but did not deny, reports she referred to Ms Higgins – a former Liberal staffer – as a “lying cow” after she spoke out about her alleged rape in Parliament House.
She reportedly made the comment in the open part of her office and it was heard by several staff members, including public servants on secondment from the Department of Defence.
Mr Morrison on Thursday said Ms Reynolds had apologised for the remarks.
“She apologised to the staff about making what were inappropriate comments, long before it became public,” he told reporters.
“She deeply regrets it. They were offensive remarks. She should never have made them. I don’t condone them. But what matters is that we continue to address the substance of the issues.”
Ms Reynolds reportedly made the comment on 15 February – the same day Ms Higgins went public with allegations she was raped by a male colleague inside Senator Reynold’s office in March 2019, when she was 24 years old.
Mr Morrison on Thursday also dismissed calls for an independent inquiry into a historical rape allegation that has been strenuously denied by Attorney-General Christian Porter.
He also rejected calls for Mr Porter to stand down from his current role as Australia’s top law maker – saying he expected Mr Porter to return to the job after a short period of leave.
Mr Morrison said he stood by Mr Porter and his right to the presumption of innocence.
“There is no other alternative for a Prime Minister than the rule of law,” he told reporters.
“There is not some other process. There is not the mob process. There is not the tribe-has-spoken process. That’s not how we run the rule of law in Australia.”
The woman at the centre of the allegation took her own life last year.
Mr Morrison described the events surrounding the historical rape allegation as “harrowing”.
“As traumatic as these events are, that principle must continue to guide us, and will certainly continue to guide me and my government as we deal with these very sensitive issues,” he said.
If you or someone you know is impacted by family and domestic violence or sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.