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 – her former 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 Senator 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.”
Senator 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 Reynolds’ 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 against Attorney-General Christian Porter, which he has strenuously denied.
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 said.
“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 rule of law is essential for liberal democracies. And we weaken it at our great peril.”
Mr Porter has also rejected calls to stand aside from his role, saying he’s become a victim of trial by media and the rule of law would be worthless if people lost their job based on accusations alone.
“Nothing in the allegations that have been printed ever happened,” Mr Porter said on Wednesday.
NSW Police on Tuesday closed their investigation into the rape allegation put to them in February last year by the woman at the centre of the complaint, a Adelaide woman who took her own life.
The South Australian coroner is also investigating the circumstances around her death and currently considering whether to conduct an inquest.
Mr Morrison described the events surrounding the historical allegations as “harrowing” but said they should be left with police to deal with.
“They are the competent and authorised authorities to make the judgements about any such allegations, and they have made their conclusions,” 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.
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