Australia’s Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has paid compensation to a former aide who she called a “lying cow” after she alleged she had been raped by a former colleague.
The confidential settlement also includes a donation to a sexual assault charity.
She apologised to Brittany Higgins for making the slur at her in her office in February.
Ms Higgins had publicly accused another staff member of raping her in 2019.
In public the minister had stood behind her former employee when she made the accusation.
Ms Reynolds remains on sick leave and on Friday posted an apology on social media, adding she “did not mean it in the sense it may have been understood”.
“Given that the comment was made public, which I never intended, I also want to retract it and unreservedly apologise to Brittany Higgins and acknowledge the hurt and distress it caused to her,” she explained.
In a statement, Ms Higgins said she accepted the apology.
“I am pleased that the minister has now withdrawn her comments and I accept her apology to me,” Ms Higgins said. She described this period as “immensely challenging”.
“Any monies I have received from the minister, as part of this settlement of my claim against her over and above my legal costs, will be paid in full to an organisation that provides counselling and support for survivors of sexual assault and abuse in the Canberra area. These funds will assist them in this important work,” she explained.
When asked earlier this week if Ms Reynolds should quit, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said her remark had come “in her private office in a stressful week”.
Last month, the former political adviser alleged she had been attacked in Ms Reynolds’ office at Parliament House after a night out in 2019. She said she wanted a “comprehensive police investigation into what happened to me”.
The man was later sacked for a separate reason.
Earlier in the week, Ms Higgins told local media she felt unsupported by her boss and that she would lose her job if she reported her alleged rape to police.
“It’s just further evidence of the toxic workplace culture that exists behind closed doors in Parliament House,” she said.
In the fortnight since Ms Higgins went public, other women have come forward with allegations against the same man.
Allegations against others have also been aired publicly.
In the most high-profile case, Attorney General Christian Porter has been accused of raping a 16-year-old girl in 1988, when he was aged 17. Mr Porter has strongly rejected the allegation.
Police said they were unable to pursue an investigation, citing “insufficient admissible evidence”. The woman took her own life last year.
But on Friday, a close friend of the woman, James Hooke, said in a statement that he had “clear recollections of relevant discussions” with her within months of the alleged incident.
In response to Mr Hooke’s comments, New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said he would need to know further details before he could consider reopening the investigation.
In Australia, an alleged victim’s testimony is typically required, particularly in sexual assault cases, for police to proceed with an investigation that has chance of prosecution.
Mr Porter has said he will not stand down and retains Mr Morrison’s support.