‘Insensitive’: PM’s embarrassing apology
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has issued a personal apology after falsely claiming in a nationally televised press conference that a News Corp journalist was the subject of a "harassment complaint" over an incident in the women's toilets.
In an 11pm statement on Facebook, the Prime Minister said he now accepted the incident he described never happened.
Mr Morrison made the extraordinary claim during a tense exchange with Sky News political editor Andrew Clennell at a press conference on Tuesday, where the PM addressed the sexual harassment and assault crisis engulfing the government. He challenged the media to be careful about living in "glass houses".
"Let me take you up on that. 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,'' the Prime Minister said.
"I am not aware of it," Clennell said.
Mr Morrison continued: "You are not aware of it. So let's not all of us who sit in glass houses here start getting into that. It's about taking responsibility. What I am suggesting to you is that there are serious issues here that no single individual can overwatch on every single inch of this place every second of the day. I don't think any Australian has that reasonable expectation."
Last night, the Prime Minister said he now accepted that the incident he described did not occur and that he was "wrong" to say what he did.
"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. I accept their account,'' he said.
"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."
"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.
Earlier, the Prime Minister told Parliament he had "anonymised" the allegation over an incident in the female toilets, however press gallery sources claimed that the Morrison Government was busily briefing out the identity of the journalist at the centre of the false claim throughout the day.
These claims follow allegations raised in Parliament and by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins that Mr Morrison's office had peddled lies about her loved ones, including her partner David Sharaz.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly declined to tell Parliament if he had asked his staff whether they had engaged in the behaviour described by Ms Higgins.
Earlier, News Corp Australasia chairman Michael Miller completely rejected Mr Morrison's claim as "simply untrue", denying there was ever any complaint.
"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," Mr Miller said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.
"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."
Mr Miller said there was no incident of a "sexual nature" and it did not take place in a toilet.
"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," he said.
"During these proactive conversations, 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."
During the press conference, Clennell questioned whether Mr Morrison had "lost control" of his ministerial staff after revelations on Monday of lewd behaviour by Coalition staffers, including one who performed a sex act on a female MP's desk.
"Your job would probably be in a bit of jeopardy wouldn't it?" Clennell asked. "Doesn't it look like you have lost control of your ministerial staff?"
The PM hit back by suggesting people in "glass houses" should "be careful".
"I will let you editorialise as you like, but if anyone in this room wants to offer up the standards in their own work places as comparison I would invite you to do so," he said.
Clennell replied: "They seem better than what is in yours."
The Prime Minister said in his statement that he remained committed to making the workplace a safer place for women.
"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, and specifically in relation to the disgraceful events that have occurred in our workplace at Parliament House,'' he said.
"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.
"It is also of the utmost importance that I continue to focus on the needs of those facing our flood crisis, and continuing to lead our country out of the COVID-19 pandemic and global recession.
"We have achieved a lot together. None of us may be perfect. We all have our faults, but when we come together as Australians we always achieve great things and can confront any challenge."
News Corp is the publisher of news.com.au.
Originally published as 'Insensitive': PM's embarrassing apology