Scott Morrison is facing double trouble with two cabinet ministers out on stress leave and his Defence Minister accused of calling an alleged rape victim a "lying cow."

The shocking allegations will pile on the pressure for the Defence Minister Linda Reynolds to resign.

But she's attempted to defend the remarks by explaining that the revelation by news.com.au that the ex-staffer was allegedly raped on her office couch was "a stressful time in the office".

Senator Reynolds said she was not questioning Brittany Higgins' account of the alleged assault but was commenting on "news reports regarding surrounding circumstances that I felt had been misrepresented".

The Prime Minister is ending the week with the unprecedented situation of two cabinet ministers on stress leave over rape scandals.

The Attorney-General has announced he is taking a brief "mental health" break after he declared his innocence over historical rape allegations dating back to 1988 involving a 16-year-old girl at an emotional press conference in Perth.

Meanwhile, the Defence Minister, who was due to shortly return from a break on the advice of her cardiologist, has been plunged into fresh controversy over her handling of the alleged rape of former staffer Ms Higgins.

She went on sick leave just seven days ago after her cardiologist insisted she had to go straight to hospital.

As a result, she missed a sold-out speech at the National Press Club that Defence Industry representatives had flown to Canberra to attend, forcing the caterers to flog hundreds of takeaway lobsters at the bargain price of $10 a plate.

But in extraordinary new allegations, Senator Reynolds has been accused by her own staff of badmouthing her former staffer and then being forced to apologise.

The Australian, which broke the news of the minister's remarks on Wednesday night, reported that some of those staff members then raised complaints about the "lying cow" comments with their superiors.

Senator Reynolds was then forced to apologise to her staff for denigrating Ms Higgins and explained it has been a "stressful time".

Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins also previously urged Mr Morrison not to engage in ‘victim blaming rhetoric’.
Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins also previously urged Mr Morrison not to engage in ‘victim blaming rhetoric’.

The Defence Minister, who remains on sick leave after she bailed out a National Press Club address citing the advice of her cardiologist, did not deny that she referred to the former Liberal staffer as a "lying cow" to colleagues.

"A report in The Australian attributed some remarks to me regarding the very serious allegations made by my former staff member, Ms Brittany Higgins,'' she said in a statement.

"I have never questioned Ms Higgins' account of her alleged sexual assault and have always sought to respect her agency in this matter.

"I did however comment on news reports regarding surrounding circumstances that I felt had been misrepresented.

"I have consistently respected Ms Higgins' agency and privacy and said this is her story to tell and no one else's.

"Ms Higgins' allegations are very serious and that is how they must be treated to ensure her legal rights are protected. I welcome her decision to progress this matter with the Australian Federal Police."

News.com.au has contacted Ms Higgins for comment.

The former Liberal staffer alleges that she was raped at Parliament House on a couch in the then defence industry minister Senator Reynolds's office by a colleague in March 2019.

The Defence Minister has been grilled in the Senate over her handling of the alleged rape, claiming she didn't know at first it was a potential sexual assault - despite urging Ms Higgins to go to the police.

Senator Reynolds broke down in tears in Parliament as the fallout intensified in the days after the news broke, and was left unable to answer a question after offering an unreserved apology to Ms Higgins in which she indicated she was "deeply, deeply sorry."

The minister last week had to correct her answers to the Senate after she falsely claimed she held two meetings with police over the alleged rape in her office including one on April 1, 2019, with the complainant.

In an embarrassing blunder, Senator Reynolds told the Senate that she did not meet with the Australian Federal Police on that day and that she personally only met with the AFP once, on April 4, 2019, at the AFP's request.

Last Wednesday, it emerged that the senator had been admitted to hospital with a pre-existing medical condition and will take immediate medical leave, after 10 days of sustained pressure.

An investigation into who knew what and when in the Prime Minister's office and other ministerial offices is continuing.

Until the revelations overnight that the Defence Minister had called the ex-staffer a "lying cow", the attention had switched to Attorney-General Christian Porter, who revealed on Wednesday that he had been accused of rape - allegations he strenuously denies.

When asked by a reporter point blank if he had "slept with" the alleged victim, Mr Porter said: "I did not sleep with the victim. We didn't have anything of that nature happen between us."

Mr Porter has not been charged and is not the subject of any ongoing current police investigation. He revealed he would seek the support of a psychologist to deal with the trauma of the false allegations.

"All of my life I have just pushed through, but for the many caring family and friends who have asked me that question over the course of the last week, "Are you OK?" I have got to say my ... answer is I really don't know,'' he said.

"I am not ashamed to say that I am going to seek some professional assessment and assistance on answering that question over the next few weeks."



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