A nurse who raced to the aid of Bali bombing victims was disgusted when a member of the The Chaser team tried to quiz Opposition Leader Tony Abbott following an event at Parliament House.
Craig Reucassel has apologised this morning "for any offence or distress caused" and insisted he had never intended to offend Clair Marsh, a nurse who helped treat those injured in Bali, or any other bombing victims.
Ms Marsh still had a tear in her eye as she was being led away from a press conference when Reucassel interrupted them and began firing questions at Mr Abbott about freedom of speech.
Accompanied by a cameraman, Mr Reucassel wanted to know Mr Abbott's views on using parliamentary footage for satire.
Ms Marsh, who had attended the event with Bali bombing survivor Peter Hughes, said she liked The Chaser, but was appalled by the stunt yesterday.
Ms Marsh and Mr Hughes had spoken movingly of the bloody horror they saw in Bali at the event, held in the Bali Memorial Garden in the House of Representatives gardens.
"Peter Hughes and I were quite moved, both of us had tears. We were being led away and, I like The Chaser group, but they go overboard and they were bloody inappropriate," Ms Marsh said.
"We were talking about people who died and others still living with terrible wounds."
When Reucassel interrupted, Mr Abbott told him it was "not the time" before Ms Marsh had her say.
"If I am allowed to have my freedom of speech, would you please go away because you are upsetting me?" she told Reucassel.
Mr Abbott was lobbying for the adoption of a retrospective compensation scheme for Australians who have been victims of terror since 2001. He called for $75,000 compensation payments for people affected by terrorism.
A statement released on Reucassel's Twitter account this morning said he had spoken to Mr Abbott's media adviser before the press conference and said he would not interrupt the event "on account of the gravity of its subject".
"In the second half of the press conference, the Opposition Leader took questions about a range of issues such as the carbon tax and gay marriage. As agreed, Craig did not ask any questions," the statement said.
Reucassel said he then approached Mr Abbott as he was leaving the memorial gardens and heading back to Parliament House.
"Since Mr Abbott had readily taken questions on other issues, Craig asked the Opposition Leader a serious question about his recent statements on free speech. He did not make any jokes or perform any 'stunts'. He did not mention Bali," the statement said.
"As soon as Clair Marsh expressed discomfort, Craig walked away.
"The timing of Craig's approach to Mr Abbott was intended to separate his interaction from the event at the Bali Memorial. No disrespect was intended to Bali victims or anyone present and Craig apologises for any offence or distress caused."
However despite Reucassel’s insistence today that he approached Mr Abbott outside the memorial garden, a photograph (above) clearly shows him approaching Mr Abbott inside the garden.
A Fairfax photographer who covered the event said Reucassel first attempted to talk to Mr Abbott as he walked from the area where the press conference was held across the garden to a memorial where the names of all the Bali victims are listed.
At that point Ms Marsh and Mr Hughes were not standing beside Mr Abbott, who asked Reucassel to move away.
Accompanied by two cameramen, Reucassel then approached Mr Abbott a second time outside the garden when a clearly upset Ms Marsh asked him to leave.
Ms Marsh told radio station 3AW today that it was a ‘‘really stupid thing to do’’ and Reucassel had ‘‘absolutely crossed a line’’.
‘‘It’s the most beautiful garden, it is absolutely stunning, and all the names of the victims are there and it really brought it all home again,’’ she said.
‘‘It may be 10 years but it’s pretty close to the skin, it is still up there. You still remember it, every damn second of it, and we were upset.’’
The interview was for an upcoming episode of the ABC's The Hamster Wheel.
This morning, Mr Abbott said Reucassel's interruption was unnecessary and tacky.
"I thought it was a bit tacky," Mr Abbott told the Nine Network.
"Particularly for Peter and for Clair it was a very emotional moment going into that garden of remembrance and pleading for the victims of terrorism and to be interrupted by The Chaser in a way that was neither funny or sombre was unnecessary."
Attorney-General Nicola Roxon yesterday called a snap media conference and said Mr Abbott's decision to hold a doorstop at the memorial showed a lack of judgment.
"To use the Bali memorial facilities to actually conduct a political press conference on a range of everything else from the carbon tax to his problems with Mr Bernardi, I think is quite inappropriate," she said.