Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been criticised for his response to claims Defence Minister Linda Reynolds called Brittany Higgins a "lying cow" after the former Liberal staffer went public with rape allegations against an ex-colleague.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Mr Morrison said Ms Reynolds had apologised for the comments made in an open space in her office where she could be heard by others, and admitted they were "inappropriate and wrong".
"The second point, though, is they were made in her private office in a stressful week," he clarified.
"They weren't made in a public place, and nor were they intended for that."
Mr Morrison added ministers were "human beings" who sometimes made comments they deeply regretted.
"And I would simply ask you, given the comment was made in a private place, that you offer the same generosity to how you perceive something you might have said, and perhaps apply the same standard to Linda Reynolds who, at the time, was under significant stress," he said.
"She should never have made them. I don't condone them. But what matters is that we continue to address the substance of the issues here."
PM blasted over 'private office' comments
While Mr Morrison said being in a private place didn't excuse the minister's insult, he was slammed on social media over claims the comment was not intended to be made public.
"Wow – so private offices in Parliament House are now locker rooms and we should forgive what is said there?" a woman wrote on Twitter.
"This presser by Scott Morrison about the Linda Reynolds matters is like a rolling car crash. 'She's said that in private', 'She's apologised', 'We all say things we regret in private'. This is terrible. This minister just called a rape victim a 'lying cow' and we're meant to move on," a second outraged person wrote.
"Saying abusive offensive remarks is not OK in private or public, in a role of power or as a mere mortal in public," a third added.
"That thinking is what allows degradation of individuals to continue."
Ms Reynolds was accused of making the "lying cow" remark on February 15 after Ms Higgins' rape allegations were made public.
In a statement released on Wednesday in response to the report, the senator did not deny the "lying cow" comment, but said she had "never questioned" Ms Higgins' allegations.
Senator Reynolds said she made her comments in relation to other details in news reports which the defence minister believed had been "misrepresented".
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