Defence Minister Linda Reynolds reportedly called her former media adviser Brittany Higgins a “lying cow” in front of staff members after Higgins came forward with a rape allegation.

According to The Australian, the comment was made on February 15, the same day that Higgins went public. Reynolds reportedly made the comment in the open part of her office, where it was heard by a number of staff members and public servants.

Those who heard the alleged comments reportedly escalated it to Reynolds’ superiors, asserting that her comments were inappropriate given the circumstances.

Reynolds later issued an apology to her staff for the comments, in which she allegedly claimed that they had been made during “a stressful time” for everyone involved, according to The Australian.

Following reports of the “lying cow” comments, Reynolds released a statement that didn’t directly confirm or deny the comment.

“A report in The Australian attributed some remarks to me regarding the very serious allegations made by my former staff member, Ms Brittany Higgins,” Reynolds said in a statement on Wednesday night.

“I have never questioned Ms Higgins’ account of her alleged sexual assault and have always sought to respect her agency in this matter. I did however comment on news reports regarding surrounding circumstances that I felt had been misrepresented.”

“I have consistently respected Ms Higgins’ agency and privacy and said this is her story to tell and no one else’s.

“Ms Higgins’ allegations are very serious and that is how they must be treated to ensure her legal rights are protected.

“I welcome her decision to progress this matter with the Australian Federal Police,” she wrote.

The reports have emerged while Senator Reynolds is on medical leave. She is due to return to her role next week.

Brittany Higgins is yet to respond to Reynolds’ alleged comments.

Image: Getty Images / Sam Mooy