A contrite Barnaby Joyce concedes a freshly leaked text in which he called Scott Morrison "a hypocrite and a liar" has damaged the prime minister's reputation.
The text was sent by Mr Joyce on March 22, 2021 to a third party, who passed the message on to former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins.
It was penned a month after Ms Higgins went public with allegations she was raped in a ministerial office at Parliament House in 2019, sparking a national conversation about treatment of women in the workplace.
"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 was a backbencher at the time but returned to the Nationals leadership three months later.
Speaking to the media in Sydney on Saturday morning, the deputy prime minister publicly apologised to Mr Morrison and played down his characterisation.
"My view from the backbench about the prime minister was based on assumption and commentary, not from a one on one working relationship," Mr Joyce told reporters.
"From a one on one working relationship, I found a man who has honoured every agreement that he's made with me."
He would not say what prompted him to write the text and insisted he never intended it to be forwarded to Ms Higgins or end up in the public realm.
Mr Joyce said he was made aware the text was circulating among third parties this week and immediately called Mr Morrison to personally apologise and offer his resignation, which the prime minister did not accept.
"That, in itself, is a statement of a person of great character. That is not one of a person of any form of vindictiveness or a sense of retribution," he said.
Mr Joyce does not believe it will dent the coalition's chances of winning a fourth consecutive term in government, with voters due to head to the polls within months.
But he admitted the text message is damaging to Mr Morrison and the ability of the public to trust him.
"You don't apologise for things you don't think cause harm," he said.
In a statement, Mr Morrison said he understood Mr Joyce was in a "different headspace last year" and believes he "genuinely no longer feels this way".
"Since coming to the role of DPM (deputy prime minister), it is fair to say that we both positively surprised each other," he said.
"We were never close before this and never pretended to be."
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the comments made Mr Joyce's position "untenable", dismissing the suggestion he'd had a change of heart since working more closely with Mr Morrison.
"Hang on a second here. That was after Barnaby Joyce had served in the cabinet for over half a decade," he said.
The prime minister's character was called into question this week when leaked texts revealed former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian labelled Mr Morrison a "horrible, horrible person" who was "actively spreading lies" during the 2019/20 bushfire crisis.
In the exchange, a unnamed federal cabinet minister branded Mr Morrison a "complete psycho" as well as "desperate and jealous".
Several ministers have denied it was them.
Mr Joyce attacked the unnamed minister on Friday, declaring the texts had been leaked over a "personal grudge" to deliberately damage the government.
Australian Associated Press
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