Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce this week offered his resignation to Scott Morrison over an explosive text in which he called the prime minister “a hypocrite and a liar”.
But Morrison did not take up the offer, instead accepting Joyce’s “apology in good faith”.
The extraordinary text message – the latest highly damaging assessment of the PM’s character by a leading political figure – has plunged the government into crisis on the eve of parliament resuming.
The Nationals leader has pulled out of the ABCs Sunday morning Insider’s program, with Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews put in the hot seat as a substitute.
Joyce, then on the backbench, sent the text in March 2021 in the wake of Brittany Higgins’ allegation she was raped in Parliament House. It went to a third party, who passed it on to Higgins.
At a news conference on Saturday morning, Joyce said “never expected the text to be forwarded on”.
Nine reported that the text said “Tell BH [Brittany Higgins] I and Scott, he is Scott to me until I have to recognise his office, don’t get along.
"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.”
Nine said Higgins had shared the text with it.
As the government scrambled to try to manage the situation, Morrison said in a statement on Friday night that Joyce had approached him this week to tell him of the text messages.
“He sincerely apologised and I immediately accepted his apology in good faith.
"I understand Barnaby was in a different headspace last year, both professionally and personally, and so I know he genuinely no longer feels this way.
"Relationships change over time. Politicians are human beings too. We all have our frailties and none of us are perfect, ” Morrison said.
“Since coming to the role of DPM, it is fair to say that we both positively surprised each other.
"We were never close before this and never pretended to be. But in these roles we have really found our rhythm, as we have concluded AUKUS, settled our climate change policy and continued to fight the pandemic.”
The Joyce sledge has come out after Tuesday’s revelation that during the 2019-20 bushfires, then NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian had called Morrison a “horrible, horrible person” in a text to a minister whose identity is not known. Last year, French President Emmanuel Macron branded him a liar.
Joyce told his news conference he had sent the message after being approached by a number of people to help them in a legal process that was still on foot.
“However, I should never have written the text that I did. I certainly never expected the text to be forwarded on.
"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.”
He said that from the backbench, his view of Morrison had been based on “assumption and commentary”, which was a flawed process.
But working with the PM one-on-one, “I found a man who has honoured every agreement that he’s made with me and who I have noted has honoured every agreement that he’s made with others from both sides of the political fence”.
Joyce said when the text came to light a couple of days ago, he rang Morrison immediately. “I apologised. He accepted my apology.
"I offered my resignation and he did not accept my resignation. And that, in itself, is a statement of a person of greater character. That is not one of a person of any form of vindictiveness or pique or a sense of retribution.”
Asked whether he trusted Morrison now, Joyce said “yes, I do”. He said he had told the third person to tell Higgins what he said, not to forward the text.
He admitted the damage the leak had done. “Well, obviously, you wouldn’t be apologising for it if you didn’t think that there was something wrong with it. But what you have to do is make amends for it.
"You don’t apologise for things you don’t think cause harm.”
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said it was “untenable for Barnaby Joyce to continue to be deputy prime minister to Morrison” after what he had said in the text message.