Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been forced to make an embarrassing apology, conceding his claim media giant News Corp needed to clean up its own house before lecturing others on workplace behaviour was “insensitive” and based on wrong information.
In a late night post on his Facebook page, Mr Morrison said he deeply regretted his comments.
The Prime Minister was widely accused on Tuesday morning of trying to weaponise claims of harassment, when he sought to deflect a question from a Sky News journalist about the culture in Parliament House by suggesting News Corp was dealing with its own complaint of harassment.
“You’d 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,” he said.
The journalist, Andrew Clennell responded he was not aware of the complaint.
“You are not aware of it. So let’s not, all of us who sit in glass houses here, start getting into that,” Mr Morrison added.
Hours later, News Corp’s chairman Michael Miller slammed the Prime Minister’s behaviour and said no such complaint existed.
Mr Miller said there had been a verbal exchange between two of his company’s Parliament House employees last year, but it 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.”
“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,” Mr Miller said.
“This is simply untrue and it undermines the principle that people must be able to raise issues safely and in confidence.”
Mr Morrison issued an apology late on Tuesday night.
“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,” Mr Morrison posted on Facebook.
“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.”
The Prime Minister said he stood by his other remarks in the press conference.
“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,” Mr Morrison said.
“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 has been accused of being tone deaf in his response to the frustration being expressed across the country that women are still needing to fight for equality and basic decency.
He has faced relentless questions from the Opposition about his office’s handling of a rape allegation, made by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins.
Four inquiries are now underway, including a probe into broader allegations of a toxic culture on Capital Hill by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner.
On Monday, a Coalition staffer was sacked after reports he had masturbated on the desk of a female Liberal MP, recording the incident and sharing the video amongst a group of his colleagues.
Channel 10 and The Australian reported they had obtained the videos and pictures of four Coalition staffers performing sexual acts in Parliament House.
The identities of the other three staff have not been revealed.