Scott Morrison has been questioned over how he knew of a harassment claim at a media organisation but did not know about the alleged sexual assault of Brittany Higgins within Parliament House in 2019.
At a press conference on Tuesday, the prime minister addressed a Network 10 report that had aired the previous evening alleging that male coalition employees had photographed and filmed themselves performing sex acts inside Parliament House.
The allegations — which included that government staffers had brought sex workers into Parliament House for coalition MPs — came a month after Higgins’ story first broke, and weeks after attorney-general Christian Porter revealed that he was the minister at the centre of historical rape allegations.
During the press conference, Morrison was asked by a Sky News reporter whether, in light of the alleged events that have been uncovered over the past month, he had “lost control” of his ministerial staff. Morrison challenged the reporter, revealing details of harassment allegations at the media organisation.
“Right now, you would be aware that in your own organisation that there is a person who has had a complaint made against them for harassment of a woman in a women’s toilet and that matter is being pursued by your own HR department,” Morrison said.
The PM said the allegations aired by Network Ten had occurred “long before” he became prime minister.
“So that is not something that I could be directly held accountable even when I wasn’t in the role. What I am held accountable [for] is what I do now and that is what I am outlining to you today. So you are free to make your criticisms and to stand on that pedestal but be careful,” he warned.
Another journalist questioned how Morrison could know about an incident that occurred within a media organisation yet not know about the alleged rape of Higgins in Linda Reynolds’ office metres away from his own office.
The reporter also noted that Morrison had aired the harassment claim publicly when it may have been “against the wishes of the victim”.
Morrison said he was made aware of the harassment claim on Monday night, but only learned of Higgins’ allegations on February 15, when the story was first aired by the media.
“The suggestion was made by a member of the press gallery that things like this do not happen in the media and I think that would be unfair,” he said.
The Prime Minister urged women to come forward to disclose sexual harassment + assault just minutes before he WEAPONISED one of these such disclosures as a defence strategy for his own failings.
— Katy Gallagher (@SenKatyG) March 23, 2021
Following the press conference, Labor senator Katy Gallagher slammed Morrison for publicly revealing details of the harassment claim at a time when women who have experienced sexual harassment or assault should be encouraged to come forward.
“The prime minister goes out and does something like this, where he chucks out a complaint, details of it, names the employer in a building like this, weaponises it as a defensive strategy to make up for his own failings,” she said.
“What about the woman at the heart of that complaint, now? National news.”
News Corp Australasia chair Michael Miller has since said that Morrison’s remark was untrue, as no complaint had been received by the organisation.
Overnight Morrison apologised for the incident in a post on Facebook.
“In the course of today’s media conference when responding to further questions I deeply regret my insensitive response to a question from a News Ltd journalist by making an anonymous reference to an incident at News Ltd that has been rejected by the company,” he wrote.
“I accept their account. I was wrong to raise it, the emotion of the moment is no excuse. I especially wish to apologise to the individual at the centre of the incident and others directly impacted. I had no right to raise this issue and especially without their permission.”
He said he owes it to all women in Australia “to do better”.