Minister apologises for ‘lying cow’ slur
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has released a statement apologising to Brittany Higgins after reports she called the former Liberal staffer a "lying cow".
Lawyers for Ms Higgins reportedly demanded Senator Reynolds apologise after it was reported that the minister called her a "lying cow" on the same day allegations Ms Higgins was raped in Parliament House emerged.
Today, Senator Reynolds issued a statement saying Ms Higgins' lawyers had been in contact and referred to reporting in The Australian that "attributed some remarks to me regarding the very serious allegations made by my former staff member".
"I have never questioned Ms Higgins' account of her alleged sexual assault and have always sought to respect her agency in this matter," she said.
"In response to a letter from Ms Higgins' lawyers yesterday afternoon, discussions are now underway through our legal representatives in an effort to resolve this matter as soon as possible, with any resolution to include an apology.
"However, in the meantime, I want to express how deeply sorry I am for these remarks and for any hurt and distress they have caused."
The Australian reported on Wednesday night that Senator Reynolds had called Ms Higgins a "lying cow" in the open part of her office on February 15. The comment was heard by several staff members and some raised complaints with their superiors.
Senator Reynolds was forced to apologise to her staff for denigrating Ms Higgins and explained it has been a "stressful time".
After the report was published, a law firm representing Ms Higgins reportedly demanded from Senator Reynolds "an immediate and unequivocal public withdrawal of your comments and apology to our client for the hurt and distress caused", The Australian reported.
Senator Reynolds has said the remarks were not referring to the alleged rape and instead Ms Higgins' account of what occurred and the support she was offered after the alleged incident.
Ms Higgins told news.com.au that the comments made by Minister Reynolds were "incredibly hurtful".
"I appreciate that it has been a stressful time but that sort of behaviour and language is never excusable," she said. "It's just further evidence of the toxic workplace culture that exists behind closed doors in Parliament House."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said yesterday he would not sack Senator Reynolds for the "offensive" description.
Speaking on Thursday morning, Mr Morrison called for compassion for the Defence Minister on the grounds she had a "stressful week" after it was revealed she had known for two years that an ex-staffer had alleged she was raped on her office couch.
Asked if she should resign, the Prime Minister said the comments were made in "private".
"She has deeply regretted them," he said. "She made them in a private office. She immediately apologised. It was soon after, I should say.
"She apologised to the staff about making what were inappropriate comments, long before it became public. And what is - I would just simply say to people - you know, it's been a very traumatic several weeks for many people.
"People directly involved by these events are our primary concern. But equally, there have been others who have been drawn into this. They're human beings."
He said people said things they sometimes regret.
"I'm sure that all of you have found yourself, at a time of frustration, perhaps saying things you regret," Mr Morrison said.
"And I would simply ask you, given the comment was made in a private place, that you offer the same generosity to how you perceive something you might have said, and perhaps apply the same standard to Linda Reynolds who, at the time, was under significant stress.
"She deeply regrets it. They were offensive remarks. She should never have made them. I don't condone them. But what matters is that we continue to address the substance of the issues here, as we are."
*For 24-hour sexual violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.
Originally published as Minister apologises for 'lying cow' slur