Australia PM Morrison's discomfort mounts after damaging text leak

The leak comes at a difficult time for Mr Scott Morrison, who has been criticised for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) - Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison, lagging in the polls before an election later this year, is dealing with the fallout from a leaked text message from his deputy Barnaby Joyce branding the premier "a hypocrite and a liar".

Mr Joyce has apologised for the texts, which were sent in March last year before he took the deputy prime minister role. Details of the messages were reported in the Australian newspaper on Saturday (Feb 5).

He said he had offered his resignation, which Mr Morrison had rejected.

"I should never have written the texts that I did," Mr Joyce said at a press conference, adding that he had not expected them to end up in the public domain.

Mr Joyce said his views on Mr Morrison had changed since getting to know him on a one-on-one professional basis as his deputy.

The leak comes at a difficult time for Mr Morrison, who has been criticised for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A survey by Newspoll last Sunday showed the ruling centre-right coalition trailed the opposition Labor Party by 56 per cent to 44 per cent, with Mr Morrison's approval rating falling to its lowest point since February 2020. An election must be called before the end of May under Australian law.

The prime minister said in a statement that he accepted Mr Joyce's apology.

"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," Mr Morrison said.

Still, the leak offers more fuel to political opponents who say Mr Morrison does not have the character for the top job. They come after the Prime Minister was asked by a reporter earlier in the week about a two-year-old text from former New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian to an unidentified federal Cabinet minister in which she was said to describe Mr Morrison as a "horrible, horrible person".

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said Mr Joyce’s position as deputy was untenable in light of the text, describing the government as rife with disunity. 

“It’s a shambles which isn’t looking after the interests of Australians because they are obsessed by their internal hatreds and their dysfunction,” Mr Albanese said at a media conference. 

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