The Australian and international news stories you need to know today, Friday March 26.

This post deals with sexual assault and might be triggering for some readers.

"Where have you been?" Prime Minister grilled on Brittany Higgins' reaction, Christian Porter and the women's march.

In his first major sit-down television interview since the issue of violence against women erupted after the allegation made by Brittany Higgins in February, Scott Morrison has been grilled by veteran journalist Tracy Grimshaw.

Morrison said he would be "very pleased" to meet with Brittany Higgins if she wishes, while admitting he has failed to fully grasp the problem of sexism before now.

Mr Morrison said he often heard statistics about violence against women but Ms Higgins' story had taken him "deeper into this issue" that he had appreciated before.  

The prime minister defended himself against the accusation that he is late to the issue of sexism, saying that while women "live with it every day", he has had different experiences. 

He dug his heels in on his defence of Attorney-General Christian Porter, again labelling him "an innocent man" and rejecting the idea that he could instigate a non-criminal inquiry into a historical rape allegation about him.

"You have believed Christian Porter and Eric Abetz. The pattern here is women are always the liars. Brittany Higgins, Sue Hickey, Christian Porter's accuser," Grimshaw told him, to which he replied, "I don't agree with your assessment. In this country, people will make allegations and we have ways of dealing with it."

As Morrison tried to reiterate that "the police have decided that there is no further investigation," Grimshaw told him, "there has been no investigation Prime Minister. You have just believed him."


Mr Morrison said Porter and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds - who is on medical leave after calling Ms Higgins a "lying cow" - would "continue to play a very important role" in his Cabinet.

He declined to say what positions they might serve in, and when a reshuffle would be announced.

Read more: "This has been a big wake up call." The most important moments from Scott Morrison's Current Affair interview

PM orders Higgins 'backgrounding' inquiry.

Scott Morrison has ordered an inquiry into whether any members of his staff backgrounded against Brittany Higgins or her loved ones.

The prime minister triggered the process after his chief of staff received confidential information from a "primary and direct" source with knowledge of the claims, separate to Ms Higgins herself.

"In response and based on that information, I have asked my chief of staff to commence a process in accordance with advice from the Department of Finance for dealing with complaints against staff members," he told parliament on Thursday.

Ms Higgins has also made a formal complaint to Mr Morrison's chief of staff, asking him to investigate whether anyone in the prime minister's office tried to privately undermine her loved ones.

Morrison was asked again during a radio interview on Thursday whether he could say categorically his office had not engaged in such behaviour.


"Nothing has been raised with my office from anyone in the gallery making any of those accusations or any discomfort about anything that my office has done," he told the ABC.

"People make allegations all the time second, third-hand. But there's no one who has raised that with my chief of staff out of the gallery, no."

Shortly after his comments, Ms Higgins lodged a formal complaint.

"In the days following my interview with The Project regarding my experience in Parliament House, I was made aware by numerous journalists about the backgrounding that was happening to my partner," she wrote to Mr Kunkel.

"To my knowledge, this was being done by staff within the prime minister's media team.

"I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. It is entirely plausible the prime minister did not know that this was happening, however the more relevant point is that it did occur."

Ms Higgins has also requested to provide evidence to department secretary Phil Gaetjens, who is running an inquiry into which of the prime minister's staff knew of her rape allegations before they were made public.

Liberal MP Laming apologises to two women.

Liberal MP Andrew Laming has apologised to two Brisbane women who accused him of online abuse.

Dr Laming conceded his social media commentary had caused significant distress to two highly respected members of his federal electorate.

The exchanges sparked accusations of slander, stealing and stalking.

Dr Laming has apologised to both women in writing and during a speech to parliament.

"I want to express my regret and deep apologies for the hurt and the distress that communication may have caused," he said on Thursday.


"I want to retract those comments and issue a public unreserved apology."

The Queensland backbencher, who regularly attracts criticism for his behaviour and comments on social media, acknowledged he had lessons to learn about his use of words.

"I have made a concerted effort to understand the impact of these responses upon others and demonstrate a clear change in the way I communicate," he said.

"I want to say to any person who has received correspondence from me which fell short of what they expect from an MP that I intend to own that failure and apologise without hesitation."

Queensland's new consent laws only 'first step'.

There is growing support for Queensland to adopt an affirmative consent model after the state passed new laws designed to give judges more clarity and victims better outcomes.

Consent will no longer be assumed if a person does not verbally reject a sex act under changes that passed the Queensland parliament on Thursday night. Consent will also be able to be withdrawn by words or actions during a sexual act.

Affirmative consent is described as explicit, informed, and voluntary agreement to take part in a sexual act.

Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman said the updated laws are an "important first step" and acknowledged there was more to do, but critics argue the affirmative consent model should have been pursued.


"We have enshrined in the Criminal Code principles like silence doesn't amount to consent, consent once given can be withdrawn and the self-intoxication of a defendant cannot be relied upon by that defendant to show that they were mistaken about whether or not consent was given and that was reasonable," Ms Fentiman told AAP.

Greens MP Amy McMahon said affirmative consent has been in place in Tasmania and Victoria for years already.

Jessica Rowe and daughter saved from burning car.

Jessica Rowe has thanked the "thoughtful, fast thinking and kind school bus driver Mev" who got the journalist and her daughter out of their car before it burst into flames. 

The car caught alight on New South Head Road on Thursday afternoon outside Kambala Girls School in Sydney's Rose Bay while Rowe was picking up her daughter Allegra from school.

The bus driver saw that it was smoking and told them to get out. Thanks to his quick thinking they were left unharmed, escaping the vehicle before flames consumed the car.

"Thank you to the police & paramedics who are angels. And the tow truck driver! And the mums and dads who stopped to help," Rowe wrote on Instagram.


"They're all okay and they're home now. There was a real fear that the car could've exploded," Rowe's husband Peter Overton told 2GB.

NSW assessing the flood damage, with QLD still cut off in some areas.

Emergency services have started assessing damage in flood-affected areas of NSW after most rivers peaked across the state and as evacuation orders begin to lift.

The SES expects to assess about 600 properties in Penrith using aerial reconnaissance with a remote piloted aircraft as well as detailed assessments by teams on the ground.


Flood evacuation orders were lifted in several areas of northwestern Sydney late on Thursday night including South Creek at Mulgrave and the Hawkesbury River from Wisemans Ferry to Brooklyn and in Vineyard.

Major flooding continued on Friday morning at Maclean in the northern rivers region while the situation in Grafton and Ulmarra had eased to moderate flooding.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned on Thursday that "complacency is our biggest challenge".

"While rivers may be reaching their peak, the flows and the current are very dangerous," Ms Berejiklian told parliament.

There have been 11,000 calls for help to the NSW SES and 950 flood rescues.

11 flood warnings remain in Queensland, with some communities still cut off by water. Residents are using boats to get across the floodwater and get supplies.


Australia's gender pay gap unlikely to close for 26 years, according to new report.

Humans could walk on Mars before all Australian men and women earn the same money for the same work, a new report on the gender pay gap suggests.

Based on the rate of change over the past seven years, it will be 2047 before there's full pay parity for all workers in all industries, the report warns.

For women in executive positions, they'll have to wait about 10 years. And women in senior managerial roles can hope to be on par with men in 13, says the report by the federal government's Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) and the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre.

But the big picture across all industries and job levels is far worse.

Without a dramatic increase in the rate of change, the pay gap won't completely close for another 26 years. 

On average, Australian women now earn one fifth less than men for the same work, instead of a quarter less seven years ago.

Arrested Development's Jessica Walker dies aged 80.

Jessica Walter, the Emmy-winning actress best known for her role on Arrested Development, has died aged 80.

Deadline reports the much loved actress died in her sleep. 


“It is with a heavy heart that I confirm the passing of my beloved mum Jessica,” Walters’ daughter, Brooke Bowman, told the publication. “A working actor for over six decades, her greatest pleasure was bringing joy to others through her storytelling both on screen and off. While her legacy will live on through her body of work, she will also be remembered by many for her wit, class and overall joie de vivre.”

Around the world.

- New Zealand is moving ahead on a plan to give couples who suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth three days of paid leave.

- Joe Biden has held his first official press conference as President, announcing a revised goal of conducting 200 million COVID-19 vaccinations in his first 100 days.

- Actor Johnny Depp has been denied permission to challenge November's London Court of Appeal verdict that found him to be a "wife beater."

- Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny says that being woken up by a guard every hour during the night amounts to torture and that his appeal for treatment for acute back and leg pain has been refused in a deliberate attempt to run him down.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit for further information.

- With AAP

Feature image: A Current Affair, Getty, Instagram/Jess Rowe.