‘Simply untrue’: PM makes false claim about media sex case
News Corp Australia has rejected as "simply untrue" claims Prime Minister Scott Morrison made about a "harassment" complaint during his emotional press conference on Tuesday.
Under pressure over his handling of allegations about male Coalition staffers' mistreatment of women within Parliament House, Mr Morrison warned journalist Sky News journalist Andrew Clennell to "be careful", claiming an allegation was being looked into by News Corp's "own HR department".
"Right now, you would be aware that in your own organisation that there is a person who has had a complaint made against them of harassment of a woman in a women's toilet," Mr Morrison told reporters on Tuesday morning.
"And that matter is being pursued by your own HR department … So let's not all of us who sit in glass houses here start getting into that."
But News Corp, the publisher of this article, hit back Tuesday afternoon, rejecting Mr Morrison's claims.
"Prime Minister Scott Morrison was wrong today to claim an investigation is under way into a complaint accusing an employee of harassment against a woman in a female toilet," News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller said in a statement.
"No complaint has been received and News Corp and Sky News are not dealing with a complaint.
"News Corp and Sky News take seriously any issues raised by staff and our utmost priority is to respect their privacy and confidentiality. This is standard business practice and because of this, we do not normally comment on private matters.
"However given the Prime Minister's extraordinary public claims made at a press conference broadcast live across the nation, I want to put to rest any suggestion that an employee of our company is being investigated for conduct suggested by Mr Morrison.
"In recent weeks, following the reporting of matters of sexually inappropriate behaviour at Parliament House, our HR team proactively gave our staff the opportunity to talk to us in confidence about their wellbeing. I thank those who did so.
"During these proactive conversations, the News Corp's HR team learned of a verbal exchange between two News Corp employees in Parliament House in Canberra last year. The exchange 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.
"Following those inquiries, our HR team wrote to one of the people involved and the matter was resolved.
"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.
"This is simply untrue and it undermines the principle that people must be able to raise issues safely and in confidence."
During Question Time earlier in the day, the Prime Minister denied raising the issue to dodge questions on scandals enveloping the government.
Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek attacked Mr Morrison for using the claim to dodge legitimate questions.
"Is it any wonder victims of sexual assault and harassment in this building and around Australia are afraid of coming forward when the Prime Minister of this country uses a confidential complaint in a nationally televised media conference as a way to try to stop journalists asking questions about these important issues?" she asked.
Mr Morrison claimed that was "not what I was doing", arguing he was only suggesting sexist behaviour was not confined to politicians and their staffers.
He was also pressed on how he could have been aware of the supposed investigation, while continuing to insist he was not aware of the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins for almost two years.
"Because it's the truth," he said, before swiftly sitting down.
On Monday evening, Channel Ten aired claims multiple government staffers were part of a group in which pictures of lewd acts performed in Parliament House were circulated.
One staffer was sacked on Monday for videoing himself performing a lewd act on the desk of a female MP.
Mr Morrison was also pressed on whether another allegation - that sex workers had been signed into the building - could pose a national security risk.
The prime minister said the allegations were "abhorrent", but he could not confirm their veracity.
"Get Phil Gaetjens onto it!" yelled one Labor backbencher, referencing the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary whose investigation into the Higgins allegation has been suspended.
Mr Morrison was forced to deny misleading the House over the Gaetjens probe, after failing to mention it had been suspended despite being aware of that fact since March 9.
"Why has he failed to even take responsibility when he himself misleads parliament. Why is someone else always to blame?" Labor leader Anthony Albanese asked.
Mr Morrison dismissed the question as "abuse".
"(It) goes to the character of the Leader of the Opposition, not to (me)," he said.
Acting leader of the House Peter Dutton also shut down questions over the government's failure to speak to the security guard who found Ms Higgins after the alleged rape for over two years.
Mr Dutton said the question could jeopardise a criminal probe into the alleged crime.
"You should withdraw it and consider the view of the police commissioner. I think that should prevail in this matter," he said.
Originally published as 'Simply untrue': PM makes false claim