Mr Joyce said as soon as he became aware the text message could become public, he called the Prime Minister.
He tried to douse any suggestion there would be awkwardness between him and Mr Morrison, but it is now an open question as to how the pair can work together given the Deputy Prime Minister’s scathing assessment of the Prime Minister’s character.
Mr Joyce’s decision to pull out of the Insiders appearance, in which he would have faced a forensic grilling from host David Speers, also underscores just how damaging his free ranging assessment of the Prime Minister is.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews will instead appear on the show.
The texts were sent on to Brittany Higgins a month after the former staffer’s rape claims exploded into the public arena.
The message to Ms Higgins was sent by Mr Joyce, who was then on the backbench, on March 22, 2021, at 8.30pm (which was 9.30pm in NSW, Victoria and the ACT) through a third party, because the MP did not have her phone number.
Since the texts, Mr Joyce has returned to the deputy prime ministership.
The third party is known to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, but the person will not be identified at the request of Ms Higgins.
Ms Higgins shared the message from Mr Joyce with the Herald and The Age after he called on Wednesday for an anonymous minister who made derogatory comments about Mr Morrison in a text message conversation with former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian to identify themselves.
The message to Ms Higgins from Mr Joyce stated: “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.”
In a statement on Friday night, Mr Joyce said he “unreservedly apologised” and that “in the last 24 hours I have become aware that a screenshot of a text message has been circulating among third parties that contains comments I made in March 2021 when I was a backbencher”.
“While the text message was supposed to be private, what I said in that message was wrong; and I have unreservedly apologised to the Prime Minister for my comments,” he said. “It is common knowledge that in the past the Prime Minister and I had not always seen eye to eye.
“But I have worked extremely closely with the Prime Minister over the last seven months since I returned to the role of Deputy Prime Minister; and the Prime Minister is a person of high integrity and honesty in what is possibly the most difficult job in the nation.”
In a separate statement on Friday night, Mr Morrison said that “Barnaby approached me this week to inform me of these 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,” the Prime Minister said.
“Since coming to the role of DPM [Deputy Prime Minister], 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.”
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said it was untenable for Mr Joyce to continue as Deputy Prime Minister and that the government was a “shambles”.
He also argued that Mr Joyce’s claim that he had become better acquainted with Mr Morrison since becoming Deputy Prime Minister made no sense, given the pair had served in cabinet together for more than half a decade.
“The idea that this was just a flippant remark is simply untenable,” he said.
“If Barnaby Joyce does not trust Scott Morrison, Australia should not trust Scott Morrison. He has shown himself time and time again to be interested in the marketing and the spin and the photo ops, not interested in telling the truth and not interested in transparency.”
The revelation of the explosive text message to Ms Higgins comes just days after Network 10 political editor Peter van Onselen claimed to have a copy of a text message exchange between Ms Berejiklian and an unnamed federal cabinet member.
In those text messages, the former premier called the Prime Minister a “horrible, horrible man” and the unnamed minister said he was a “complete psycho”.
Earlier on Friday, Mr Joyce criticised the motivations of the Liberal cabinet minister alleged to have leaked the text message criticising Mr Morrison.
“You are doing this for the purpose of malice, for the purpose of vindictiveness and for your own personal grudge and therefore, it is to be disregarded,” he told the ABC.
The message to Ms Higgins was sent by Mr Joyce on the same evening the ABC’s Four Corners program went to air with new details, provided by Parliament House security guard Nikola Anderson, about the night Ms Higgins was allegedly raped in Parliament House.
It is not clear if the program prompted Mr Joyce to send the message but in the preceding weeks, Mr Morrison had been heavily criticised for his initial response to Ms Higgins’ claims.
At the time, then-Defence Minster Linda Reynolds was also under fire for calling Ms Higgins a “lying cow”.
Ms Higgins is due to appear at the National Press Club next Wednesday, alongside former Australian of the Year Grace Tame, to discuss the Jenkins’ review of Parliament House’s workplace culture.
Ms Higgins’ rape allegations, which are due to return to court in June, eventually triggered a series of reviews into the culture of Parliament House and a national conversation about the treatment of women in Australia.
Bruce Lehrmann, the accused, has pleaded not guilty to sexual intercourse without consent at Parliament House in March 2019.
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Thursday night that he was not surprised by the text messages that accused Mr Morrison of “actively spreading lies” about Ms Berejiklian.
Last year, French President Emmanuel Macron declared “I don’t think, I know” when asked if he believed Mr Morrison had lied to him about the decision to dump the proposed attack-class submarine in favour of a nuclear-powered boat that will be sourced from Britain or the United States.
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