Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins in February said she was raped by a colleague in Senator Reynolds’ ministerial office in 2019, but didn’t make a police complaint because she feared she would lose her job. She later resigned.
Higgins has recently reinstated her official complaint with the Australian Federal Police.
Three other women have since alleged they were assaulted by the same man.
He was sacked as a ministerial adviser because of a security breach on the night of Higgins’ alleged rape.
Reynolds has issued a statement saying she had never questioned Higgins’ account.
“I did, however, comment on news reports regarding surrounding circumstances that I felt had been misrepresented,” the minister said.
Morrison said Reynolds was frustrated over suggestions she did not give enough support to Higgins at the time of the incident.
He said the remark was made in a private office and she later apologised to staff for the outburst.
“She deeply regrets it. They were offensive remarks. She should never have made them. I don’t condone them,” the prime minister told reporters in NSW on Thursday.
Reynolds, who is on medical leave following heavy criticism of her handling of the allegation, is under increasing pressure to resign.
Independent senator Jacqui Lambie is calling for the minister to quit over the remark.
“She’s gone this morning. She needs to resign immediately,” Lambie told Sky News.
“If she’s not coming out denying that, if she’s trying to smooth it over and throw it somewhere else then I think she’s finished. Her career’s done.”
Senior Labor frontbencher Penny Wong said Reynolds needed to explain herself.
“It’s obviously not an acceptable comment and I think the minister needs to respond publicly,” she told ABC radio.
Independent MP Zali Steggall said she was shocked to hear Reynolds used the derogatory term towards Higgins.
“That’s incredibly disappointing and inappropriate of Linda Reynolds and the minister should know better,” she told the Nine Network.
“It makes her position all the more untenable.”
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