‘I was wrong’: PM sorry for false harassment claim
Scott Morrison has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, delivering an emotional statement to Australian women pledging he heard their concerns - only to then air details of a private, unrelated matter during a slanging match with a television journalist.
Mr Morrison, who had moments earlier appeared on the verge of tears as he talked about how his family had helped him understand the plight of women, became combative when he was asked by a News Corp journalist if he had "lost control" of his ministerial staff.
Mr Morrison fired back suggesting the reporter hold up his own workplace "by comparison".
The PM then revealed he believed a journalist had complained about being harassed in a bathroom at Parliament House.
"You are free to make your criticisms and to stand on that pedestal, but be careful," Mr Morrison warned the media.
Late last night Mr Morrison said he deeply regretted his "insensitive response" and apologised for raising a claim which he now accepted did not happen.
"I was wrong to raise it, the emotion of the moment is no excuse," he said.
"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."
Mr Morrison's airing of the unrelated matter, was immediately condemned by many who said that the Prime Minister had essentially used a private incident involving a woman as a political weapon, which could discourage others from coming forward due to confidentiality concerns.
Labor frontbencher Kristina Keneally said Mr Morrison's comments suggested he "needs to do a little bit more listening to Australian women".
"My question for the Prime Minister is, did you have the woman's consent to just throw that out on the national table?" she said.
In a statement, News Corp Australia executive chairman Michael Miller said Mr Morrison appeared to have conflated unrelated matters into an "episode of harassment".
"I want to put to rest any suggestion that an employee of our company is being investigated for conduct suggested by Mr Morrison," he said.
Mr Miller is understood to have sent Mr Morrison a forceful text expressing his disappointment, and the Prime Minister later rang Mr Miller to discuss his concerns. Prior to the exchange with the journalist, Mr Morrison had made it clear he planned to "get this house in order" and said would be speaking to all Coalition staff about the "disgusting" behaviour exposed this week.
"There are some people who have done some despicable things in this place," he said, referring to news reports of lewd and inappropriate behaviour alleged to have taken place in female MPs' offices and committed by male Coalition staffers. At least one staffer has already been dismissed for his alleged involvement in the activity.
"These things are just so foreign to me that I can hardly process them, as I am sure, I would hope, that most people would be in a similar situation."
Mr Morrison also apologised for his clumsy use of language in the way he had talked about the issues involving the treatment of women in recent weeks.
"No offence was intended by me saying that I discuss these issues with my wife," Mr Morrison said.
"Equally, I accept that many were unhappy with the language that I used on the day of the protests. No offence was intended by that either."
Mr Morrison had told parliament that day that the protesters outside were lucky to be able to have their say in peace.
Yesterday, Mr Morrison appeared to choke back tears when he spoke about the challenges women face. He said it was "not OK" and "not acceptable that in this country, a country as great as Australia" that women "are afraid to walk to their car from the train, and they carry their keys in their hand like a knife for fear of being attacked".
Defending his government's response to the cultural issues raised in the past month, he pointed to the introduction of a counselling and support service for those working in Parliament House.
Mr Morrison later addressed all Coalition staff, where he informed them he was considering mandatory face-to-face workplace health and safety training, as well as creating a ministerial register for staff induction and the development of a Coalition human resources team.
The Prime Minister also moved to reassure Australian women he had "heard" their concerns in the past month.
"I have been listening carefully," he said. "Women are too afraid to call out bad behaviour for fear of losing a job or being intimidated in their workplace.
"That is not OK, and it's not their fault, it's the environment we have allowed to be created."
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins was also yesterday invited to address all Coalition MPs during a party room meeting. Minister for Women Marise Payne said the address was well-received by colleagues.
Originally published as 'I was wrong': PM sorry for false harassment claim