Scott Morrison has issued a grovelling apology for his ‘insensitive’ and false attack on a media outlet as he was grilled about sexual misconduct in Parliament House.
The prime minister was taking questions about videos of staffers performing sex acts on the desks of female MPs when he suddenly revealed a scandal at News Corp.
‘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,’ he said to Sky News political editor Andrew Clennell.
‘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.’
However, there was no such complaint or investigation, as pointed out in a bluntly-worded rebuttal by News Corp Australia boss Michael Miller.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison pictured during Question Time on Tuesday. He has hit back at criticism from Labor after he revealed a confidential harassment claim at media giant News Corporation during a televised press conference
Mr Morrison was hours later forced into a humiliating mea culpa, admitting he should never have raised the subject.
‘I deeply regret my insensitive response to a question from a News Corp journalist by making an anonymous reference to an incident at News Corp that has been rejected by the company,’ he said.
‘I accept their account. I was wrong to raise it, the emotion of the moment is no excuse.’
However, Mr Morrison then further confused matters by appearing to imply an incident did actually occur – even after accepting it didn’t.
‘I especially wish to apologise to the individual at the centre of the incident and others directly impacted,’ he said.
‘I had no right to raise this issue and especially without their permission.’
The PM reiterated his feelings on the disgusting revelations from inside parliament, coupled with the alleged rape of staffer Brittany Higgins and other allegations.
The reports aired on Monday night also detailed MPs allegedly having sex with escorts and ‘rent boys’ in the building’s prayer rooms.
This image shared by a whistleblower shows a man sitting at a desk in Parliament House exposing himself
‘Earlier today I shared with Australians my profound regret and deep disappointment as I acknowledged the terrible mistreatment of women in this country over a long period,’ Mr Morrison said.
‘Specifically in relation to the disgraceful events that have occurred in our workplace at Parliament House.
‘I meant what I said about having listened, and being committed to doing everything I can to make the changes we need to make to deal with these issues.
‘I owe it to all women in this country, not least the women in my own life so precious to me. I owe it to them to do better.’
Mr Morrison ended his statement by attempting to move on from his colossal mistake and back to the treatment of women.
‘What matters now is doing everything in my authority to take the actions that are needed to fix the culture in our parliament and work to make Australia a safer place for women,’ he said.
Mr Miller explained why the PM was dead wrong in an uncharacteristically lengthy statement.
The press conference took an angry turn when Sky News political editor Andrew Clennell (pictured) suggested Mr Morrison’s job would be in jeopardy if he was the boss of a business and similar allegations had been made ‘on your watch’
‘Prime Minister Scott Morrison was wrong today to claim an investigation is under way into a complaint accusing an employee of harassment against a woman in a female toilet,’ he said.
‘No complaint has been received and News Corp and Sky News are not dealing with a complaint.’
Mr Miller said the PM appeared to have conflated unrelated non-sexual matters within the media company and come up with something that never happened.
He said News Corp, like most companies, kept such matters confidential but felt compelled to set the record straight.
‘Given the Prime Minister’s extraordinary public claims made at a press conference broadcast live across the nation, I want to put to rest any suggestion that an employee of our company is being investigated for conduct suggested by Mr Morrison,’ he said.
Mr Miller said News Corp HR asked staff to discuss their well-being confidentially, given its reporting on sexually inappropriate behaviour at Parliament House.
News Corp Australasian executive chairman Michael Miller has denied the explosive claims
Those conversations turned up a verbal exchange between two employees at Parliament House last year.
‘The exchange was about a workplace-related issue, it was not of a sexual nature, it did not take place in a toilet and neither person made a complaint,’ he said.
‘Following those inquiries, our HR team wrote to one of the people involved and the matter was resolved.
‘The Prime Minister appears to have joined these two matters and conflated them into an episode of harassment in a toilet that is under current investigation.
‘This is simply untrue and it undermines the principle that people must be able to raise issues safely and in confidence.’
Mr Morrison’s outburst came out of the blue as he was grilled by Clennell as to whether he had lost control of his ministerial staff.
He bizarrely warned the senior journalist to ‘be careful’ about airing sexual misconduct allegations about politicians.
The prime minister was pressed on how he did not know about the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins inside a ministerial office for more than two years later, yet somehow knew of a private (albeit nonexistent) 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.’
Statement from Michael Miller
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was wrong today to claim an investigation is under way into a complaint accusing an employee of harassment against a woman in a female toilet.
No complaint has been received and News Corp and Sky News are not dealing with a complaint.
News Corp and Sky News take seriously any issues raised by staff and our utmost priority is to respect their privacy and confidentiality.
This is standard business practice and because of this, we do not normally comment on private matters.
However given the Prime Minister’s extraordinary public claims made at a press conference broadcast live across the nation, I want to put to rest any suggestion that an employee of our company is being investigated for conduct suggested by Mr Morrison.
In recent weeks, following the reporting of matters of sexually inappropriate behaviour at Parliament House, our HR team proactively gave our staff the opportunity to talk to us in confidence about their well-being. I thank those who did so.
During these proactive conversations, the News Corp’s HR team learned of a verbal exchange between two News Corp employees in Parliament House in Canberra last year.
The exchange was about a workplace-related issue, it was not of a sexual nature, it did not take place in a toilet and neither person made a complaint. Following those inquiries, our HR team wrote to one of the people involved and the matter was resolved.
The Prime Minister appears to have joined these two matters and conflated them into an episode of harassment in a toilet that is under current investigation.
This is simply untrue and it undermines the principle that people must be able to raise issues safely and in confidence.
News Corp has no further statements to make on this matter.
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.
Labor frontbencher Katy Gallagher was scathing of the prime minister’s performance.
‘Real leadership is what was needed this morning – but we got the same old PM – angry, defensive, spiteful and calculated,’ she said.
‘We are all let down by this PM.’
Speaking after the press conference on Sky News, Clennell said he was ‘gobsmacked’ by the comments.
‘He needs to clarify why he felt it was OK to breach the confidence of who might have made a complaint,’ Clennell added.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is pictured during the press conference on Tuesday
Brittany Higgins at the March 4 Justice on March 15. She shocked Australia when she came forward with allegations she was raped by a male colleague in the office of Defence Minister Linda Reynolds
Before the heated clash with Clennell, Mr Morrison had choked back tears as he spoke about his daughters, wife and mother.
‘They motivate me every day on this issue,’ he said.
‘And to them, I say to you girls, I will not let you down.’
A coalition staff member has been sacked for allegedly performing a lewd sex act inside the office of a female Liberal MP.
‘I am shocked, and disgusted, it is shameful,’ Mr Morrison said.
‘We must get our house in order.’
The prime minister will meet with all coalition staff later on Tuesday to discuss behavioural issues.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, tasked with an inquiry into workplace conditions in Parliament House, will address the coalition party room.
Labor slams Scott Morrison for outing an alleged harassment victim in Australia’s biggest media organisation – yet claiming to have no knowledge of accusations Brittany Higgins was attacked just 50 metres from the PM’s office
Scott Morrison has come under fire from Labor as he was accused of leaking a confidential harassment complaint in a televised media conference.
Mr Morrison sensationally accused News Corporation – the nation’s biggest media organisation – of having a harassment scandal of its own during a fiery moment in a press conference on Tuesday.
The prime minister had called the press conference to express his disgust at reports of government staffers sharing lewd photos of sexual acts inside Parliament House, having sex with escorts and ‘rent boys’ in the premises, and using the prayer room for the same purpose.
But in a heated exchange, he became defensive and revealed the complaint when Sky News political editor Andrew Clennell asked whether he had lost control of his ministerial staff.
‘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.
His knowledge of the News Corp complaint comes despite him saying he wasn’t aware of the alleged rape of media adviser Brittany Higgins on a minister’s couch – 50m from his own office – for almost two years.
Labor MP Tanya Plibersek in Question Time asked whether Mr Morrison disclosing a confidential allegation live on air would discourage victims of harassment and sexual assault from coming forward.
‘Is it any wonder victims of sexual assault and 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?’ Ms Plibersek asked.
Mr Morrison replied that he was only trying to highlight how the allegations rocking Canberra in recent weeks were not confined to the political world.
‘These things that have been reported are disgusting and shameful,’ he said during the debate on the floor of the House of Representatives.
‘I was simply making the point – the problems we are experiencing in this country are not found simply in the offices of member for senators and ministers and go well beyond that.’
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese also pressed Mr Morrison further on why he had not known about Ms Higgins’ allegations for so long.
‘If the Prime Minister was really listening to the concerns of women why hasn’t he started by listening to the concerns of Brittany Higgins?’ Mr Albanese said.
‘[Why hasn’t he] asked his own staff what they knew and when about her reported sexual assault, only metres from his office?’
MR MORRISON’S SPEECH IN FULL
‘We must put the politics aside of these things, and we must recognise this problem, acknowledgment, we must fix it.
‘This has been a very traumatic month. It began with Brittany Higgins and her revelations of what took place in this very building.
‘I remember that day very well, I was equally shocked and stunned at receiving that use also.
‘These events have triggered, right across this building and indeed right across the country, women who have put up with this rubbish and this crap for their entire lives, as their mothers did, as their grandmothers did.
‘It has been going on, we have been talking about it in this place for a month, they have been living with it for their entire lives.
‘The women listening to me today know that to be true, so as much as it has been a topic of discussion here, and around the country specifically in relation to these disgraceful acts, it is something that has been the lived experience of Australian women for a very long time, and I welcome the spotlight that has now been placed on this.
‘I acknowledge that many have not liked or unappreciated some of my own personal responses to this over the course of the last month, I accept that.
‘Whether that was seeking to openly share how I try and deal with such dramatic events, people might like the fact I discuss these with my family, they are the closest people in my world to me.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and wife Jenny at the annual Mid Winter Ball at Parliament House in September 2019. He told his family emotionally during Tuesday’s press conference: ‘They motivate me every day on this issue’
‘But is how I deal with things, I always have. I have grown up in a loving and supportive family, and I discussed this is my family and those who are closest to me – no offence was intended by me by saying that I discuss these issues with my wife.
‘Equally, that is in no way indicated that these events had not already dramatically affected me already at that point. Equally, I accept that many were unhappy with the labels that are used on the day of the protest. No offence was intended by that either.
‘I could have chosen different words, I have already explained those matters in the house. What I am even more concerned about, even more importantly, I acknowledge that many Australians, especially women, believe that I have not heard them, and that greatly distresses me.
‘I have been doing a lot of listening over this past month, not for the first time, now is not the time for me to run over whether as a Minister for immigration or a Treasurer, or a Minister for Social Services, the keen interest I have shown in these issues, I’m not going to do that today.
Brittany Higgins (pictured) went public with the allegation she was raped by a male colleague inside Defence Minister Linda Reynolds’ office in 2019
‘Particularly on these issues over the last because of mother I have been listening carefully, I have had many colleagues, I have had many friends and others that I have regular contact with, talk with me openly about the issues, other traumatic things that they have had to deal with over their lifetimes and members of their family.
‘Let me tell you what I have heard. Women are too afraid to call out, bad behaviour for fear of losing a job for being intimidated in the workplace.
‘That is not OK, it is not their fault, it is the environment we have allowed to be created. Women who are afraid to walk to their car from the train, and they carry their keys in their hand like a knife for fear of being attacked. That is not OK. That is not acceptable.
‘In this country, our country as great as Australia, women walk daily that fear.
I have heard that women are overlooked, talked over, by men, whether it is in board rooms, meeting rooms, rooms, media conferences, cabinets, or anywhere else.
‘Overlooked and treated like they have nothing valuable to contribute. I have heard about being marginalised, women being intimidated, women being belittled, women being diminished, and women being objectified. That is not OK.
‘I have heard that women, when offered a job, take the salary offered because they do not feel they can ask for more. Whereas the blokes do. And they get it. That is not OK.
‘Whether this is unconscious deafness and blindness, or whether it is wilful malevolence that is behind all of this, it must be acknowledged, it must be called out, and it must stop.
‘That is all our job, it is my job, it is my ministers jobs, it is my members and senators jobs, it is your job.
‘This is not something that is of a scale that any government can simply change, it is something we must change as a society because we know it happens all over this country, but for me and my house, the house I work in here, then we must take responsibility, it is our problem here, it is our responsibility here, and I’m committed to dealing with that.
‘We must do better in this place. All of us, and in our country we must do better.
‘Now, forgive me this indulgence, I want women to have at least the same opportunities and the same voice and the same safety as men in this country.
‘I have the deepest of vested interest, criticise me if you like for speaking about my daughters, but they are the centre of my life. My wife is the centre of my life. My mother, my widowed mother is the centre of my life.
‘They motivate me every day on this issue. They have motivated me my entire life, they have taught me the values and the faith has sustains me every single day in this job.
‘Which is why I am here, I owe them everything. And to them I say to you girls, I will not let you down.
‘To the many other women who are in this place, who have shared their stories with me, I thank you for your feedback, your honesty, your support, your council, and your courage.
‘I know there are plenty of women who work in this building today, whether they be members or senators, investors, shadow ministers, staff, journalists, who say why should I bother? Why should I bother? Why should I not just walk away?
‘There has never been a more important time for women to stand in this place.
‘I want to see more women in this place, I have done anything to get more women in this place and I intend to do more. I have put more women in my cabinet than any other Prime Minister has before, and I look forward to doing more. I need women to stand with me as we go about this, as we stand together, I needed that you stated this place, I need them to stand right where they are, I did that to continue to blaze the trail right here this place, by their courage and I call for question.’