Higgins responds to Linda Reynolds' slur
"It's just further evidence of the toxic workplace culture".
That's former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins response to Defence Minister Linda Reynolds who called her a "lying cow".
Staff reported hearing Ms Reynolds making the comments in her office, where Ms Higgins was formerly employed and claims she was sexually assaulted by a colleague in 2019.
"The comments made by Minister Reynolds are incredibly hurtful,'' Ms Higgins told news.com.au.
"I appreciate that it has been a stressful time but that sort of behaviour and language is never excusable.
"It's just further evidence of the toxic workplace culture that exists behind closed doors in Parliament House."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison slammed the Defence Minister as "offensive" and said the Minister's behaviour was "inappropriate and wrong".
He told The Australian he had spoken to Ms Reynolds this morning, saying, "she knows those comments to have been inappropriate and wrong … And I share her view, obviously, about that."
He said Ms Reynolds had made the comments "in her private office in a stressful week. They weren't made in a public place and nor were they intended for that. That doesn't excuse it, not for a second. She made the appropriate apologies to her staff and rectified that."
Mr Morrison also stressed that Ms Reynolds had not made the comments in relation to Ms Higgins' claims of sexual assault.
"She was not saying that about that, at all," Mr Morrison said.
"Her comments, she said to me, related to the further commentary about levels of support provided and her frustrations about how she felt that they were doing everything they believed in their power to provide support. Clearly, over a period of time there was a very different view about that. And we've acknowledged that, and that's why we're addressing the issues the way that we are."
Following the revelation, Mr Reynolds has apologised to staff, however her future within the Cabinet now appears uncertain as more a growing number of key government figures condemn the comments.
The Australian reports that staff expressed concerns to superiors that Reynolds' comments were inappropriate.
The Defence Minister has apologised to staff for the remarks which she said had been made during "a stressful time".
Senator Reynolds released a statement on Wednesday saying she had not cast doubt on Ms Higgins' allegations which were "very serious", Senator Reynolds said.
"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," she said in the statement.
Senator Reynolds faces criticism over her handling of Ms Higgins' rape allegation as well as her failure to inform Scott Morrison of the incident for nearly two years.
Ms Higgins said the alleged offence occurred on March 23, 2019, after a night of drinking with colleagues.
Senator Reynolds' former acting chief of staff Fiona Brown initially handled the response to the allegations which saw the alleged perpetrator, a former colleague of Ms Higgins who also worked for Senator Reynolds, sacked for a "security breach" before the rape allegation had been made.
Senator Reynolds, at the time a defence industry minister, said she was aware of Ms Higgins' story "over a period of days".
She said she and Ms Brown offered the former media adviser police access if needed for an official complaint.
"We at all times followed the advice of ministerial and parliamentary services and the Department of Finance, as was appropriate," Senator Reynolds said to parliament last month.
"I have full confidence that my then chief of staff and I at all times acted in what we believed were the best interests of Brittany."
According to The Australian Senator Reynolds formally transferred her authority as Defence Minister to Foreign Minister Marise Payne, now also Acting Defence Minister.
That authority expires on 8 March, along with Senator Reynolds' medical leave.
Senator Reynolds has sought hospital treatment on the advice of her cardiologist after the stress of Ms Higgins' rape allegation exacerbated a pre-existing medical condition.
Last week Ms Higgins made a formal statement to the Australian Federal Police about an alleged sexual assault that occurred in the minister's office, resulting in a police investigation. Ms Higgins said she did not pursue police involvement in 2019 for fear of employment repercussions.
She resigned from her job as Employment Minister Michaelia Cash's media adviser last month after telling Senator Cash of the alleged rape.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has chastised Senator Reynolds for not informing him about the rape allegation sooner, telling parliament he only found out about the rape allegation on the morning of February 15 when the story was posted on news.com.au.
The Prime Minister told parliament it was unacceptable he had not been informed immediately.
Senator Reynolds has said she is "deeply sorry" about the way she handled the situation.
It is understood Ms Reynolds and Ms Brown conducted a meeting with Ms Higgins on April 1, 2019, in the same office where the alleged rape occurred.
Originally published as Defence Minister's slur against alleged rape victim