Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has apologised for text messages calling Prime Minister Scott Morrison a "hypocrite" and a "liar".
The text message, obtained and published by Nine newspapers, was sent from Mr Joyce on March 22, 2021 to a third party who passed the message on to former Liberal Party staffer Brittany Higgins, a month after she went public with allegations she was raped in a ministerial office in 2019.
On Saturday, a forlorn and remorseful Mr Joyce admitted he did send the text and apologised for sending it.
"I should never have written the text that I did," Mr Joyce told reporters.
"I certainly never expected the text to be forwarded on. And I don't blame anybody but myself, but I never expected it to end up in the public realm. But it would not have ended up in the public realm had I not written it, so the fault is mine."
Mr Joyce was a backbencher at the time the text was sent but returned to the Nationals leadership three months later after defeating Michael McCormack in a spill.
"Tell BH (Brittany Higgins) I and Scott, he is Scott to me until I have to recognise his office, don't get along," a screenshot of the text reads.
"He is a hypocrite and a liar from my observations and that is over a long time. I have never trusted him and I dislike how he earnestly rearranges the truth to a lie."
Mr Joyce said the text message was not sent to Ms Higgins and did not identify the recipient.
The Deputy PM told reporters he apologised to Mr Morrison "a couple of days ago", apologised and offered his resignation. The resignation was not accepted, he said.
More texts about Scott Morrison
The leaked texts come just days after journalist Peter Van Onselen asked Mr Morrison about a text exchange he claims was between a Liberal cabinet minister and former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian in which the PM was called “a horrible person” and a “psycho” at the National Press Club.
Mr Joyce told the ABC after that text exchange was leaked that people should disregard the messages, claiming they are from someone trying to derail the government with the “purpose of malice”.
He was asked on Saturday if he believed the leaked text messages could damage the election campaign to which he replied: "no".
"Whether you're in a pizza shop on Botany Road or in a pub in Tamworth or at a cattle yard, this is not the issue that you're talking about," Mr Joyce said.
"This is an issue that you must deal with, but not the issue that they're talking about and certainly not the issue that they'll make a judgement on. The Australian people are vastly more sophisticated than that."
The public perception of Mr Morrison continues to be a talking point in the lead up to the election.
He raised a few eyebrows when he appeared in Mount Eliza, Victoria on Friday and washed a woman's hair at a salon. Mr Morrison was visiting the Mornington Peninsula with Liberal candidate for Dunkley, Sharn Coombes.
The Coalition will be hoping the coming weeks can see them turn the tide. The latest Newspoll, released Monday, has the government coming in eight points behind Labor.
Nonetheless, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Defence Minister Peter Dutton have continued to leap to the defence of the PM.
Mr Frydenberg told the ABC earlier this week Mr Morrison is the man to lead the Liberals into the next election while Mr Dutton said the PM "dedicates himself each day to get us through the realities of Covid".
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