Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been stunned by questions from a reporter who shared an alleged secret text message exchange among colleagues referring to him as a "complete psycho" and a "fraud".
After giving a speech at the National Press Club of Australia the prime minister was questioned by Channel 10 political editor Peter Van Onselen who claimed he had obtained private text messages sent between former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian and an unnamed Liberal cabinet minister.
He then read them aloud to the prime minister in front of the audience at the press club.
"At the start of your speech, you mentioned your close friendship with Marise Payne. I wanted to ask you about another close friend, Gladys Berejiklian," he said.
Mr Morrison had urged Ms Berejiklian to run for the federal Liberal party at the upcoming election – an offer she ultimately declined.
"I've been provided with a text message exchange between the former New South Wales premier and a current Liberal cabinet minister," Mr Van Onselen continued.
"I've got them right here. In one she describes you as, 'A horrible, horrible person', going on to say she did not trust you and [that] you're more concerned with politics than people."
Then he turned to the cabinet minister's alleged opinion.
"The minister is even more scathing," he said.
"Describing you as a 'fraud' and 'a complete psycho'. Does this exchange surprise you? And what do you think that it tells us?"
Morrison responds to alleged text exchange
During the speech – widely seen as a pre-election pitch to the Australian public – Mr Morrison spoke at length of the disruption caused by the pandemic, and often deflected questions by invoking Covid and various facets of the government's response to the virus.
However he was uncharacteristically curt in his answer to the alleged text messages.
"Well, I don't know who you're referring to or the basis of what you've put to me," Mr Morrison responded.
"But I obviously don't agree with it. And I don't think that that is my record."
Social media quickly lit up following the surprise exchange, which mirrors reporting in The Sydney Morning Herald last year claiming Ms Berejiklian saw the prime minister as a "bully" who "makes himself look big by trying to make others look small".
— Jannette Armstrong (@Nette8Two) February 1, 2022
PM makes bold employment claim, warns of 'direct threat' from China
During the speech, the PM said he expected the jobless rate to continue to decline.
Mr Morrison said his government expects the unemployment rate will fall below four per cent this year and to a level not seen in Australia for almost 50 years.
The unemployment rate fell to 13-year low of 4.2 per cent in December.
The PM also said the government was ready to revitalise the country's manufacturing sector and also reiterated the challenges on an international level with the rise of an autocratic China.
Referring to China, but not by name, Mr Morrison said Australia was "dealing with one of the most significant shifts in global and regional security we have seen since before the Second World War. Changes that present a direct threat to Australia's economic and security interests.
"So here we are. Not perfect. But still standing strong. Enduring. And looking positively to the future. As earlier generations did when they faced their time of great generational trial and challenge," he said.
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.