The Project’s Lisa Wilkinson slams AFR columnist Joe Aston during meeting with Brittany Higgins

Lisa Wilkinson labeled a high-profile newspaper columnist who had been critical of her husband a “disgusting human being” during an extremely leaked conversation with Brittany Higgins.

The TV presenter made the scathing character assessment of Australian Financial Review columnist Joe Aston at the induction meeting at a Sydney hotel on January 27, 2021.

Wilkinson had spoken to her Channel 10 producer Angus Llewellyn, Ms Higgins and her boyfriend David Sharaz about two weeks before Ms Higgins broke her silence over her rape allegations on The Project.

On the programme, which aired approximately two weeks later on 15 February, Ms Higgins alleged that she was raped by former colleague Bruce Lehrmann in Parliament House in March 2019. He has always denied the allegations.

The meeting was on the same day Aston lost its defamation battle against Elaine Stead, the former director of venture capital at Blue Sky Alternative Investments.

Ms Stead was paid $280,000 after she sued the AFR and Aston – who writes the paper’s back window column – over two articles from 2019. Aston had labeled Ms Stead a “feminist moron” in an article, with a judge eventually felt his columns amounted to bullying.

At the meeting, Ms Higgins discussed how her dress had pulled up during the alleged incident at Parliament House when Wilkinson interrupted to exclaim that her husband Peter FitzSimons – writing in another Nine publication The Sydney Morning Herald – had just texted her sent to inform her that Aston had lost his case.

“That’s a good win because Joe Aston, he had huge attacks on me and my husband for years,” Wilkinson said in leaked audio of the meeting obtained by Daily Mail Australia.

Lisa Wilkinson labeled a columnist a “disgusting human being” after the reporter lost his defamation case, with the explosive comments heard in leaked audio of her five-hour encounter with Brittany Higgins

‘And then he did an almighty…’ she continued before Mr Llewellyn stepped in to say ‘oh yes, that was terrible’.

“It was just disgusting,” Wilkinson replied.

“He usually went for Pete… but I was also collateral damage. So sorry, that’s a good time. Look, good people win. Sorry to interrupt.’

Ms Higgins assured Wilkinson that the interruption was justified, said she was ‘happy’ and noted that Aston lived in LA.

“He’s barely connected to this world, even if he somehow pretends to be part of it,” she said.

Wilkinson then called him a “disgusting human being.”

“A gossip columnist and apparently proud,” Mrs. Higgins replied.

Wilkinson then made one last critique before changing the subject.

‘Yes I know. Talk about people who are basically just with black souls. That’s Joe Aston,” she said.

Aston has photographed both Wilkinson and her husband in his columns over the years.

He had written a scathing piece about Wilkinson in late 2021 following her comments about former NSW Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian and her handling of the Covid pandemic.

Aston’s piece was titled “Lisa Wilkinson owes Gladys Berejiklian an apology,” and came before the release of Wilkinson’s new memoir, “It Wasn’t Meant to Be Like This.”

1686634318 729 The Projects Lisa Wilkinson slams AFR columnist Joe Aston during

The luncheon was on the same day Australian Financial Review columnist Joe Aston (pictured) lost his defamation battle against Elaine Stead, the former managing director of venture capital at Blue Sky Alternative Investments

Aston has photographed both Wilkinson and her husband Peter FitzSimons in his columns over the years

Aston has photographed both Wilkinson and her husband Peter FitzSimons in his columns over the years

Aston claimed the book would lack an explanation for her “unnecessary tirades” against Ms Berejiklian.

“From her mansion on Sydney Harbor and as she continued her well-paid TV duties uninterruptedly, Wilkinson berated Berejiklian for not more ruthlessly curtailing the freedoms of the city’s residents,” Aston wrote.

“It remains unclear which ‘people’ Wilkinson claimed to be speaking for, but it certainly wasn’t the hundreds of thousands of low-income workers already suffocating in their tiny apartments with their children, five weeks after homeschooling, climbing the walls.”

Wilkinson had claimed that Ms Berejiklian had been too ‘soft’ in her response and instead praised Victorian Prime Minister Daniel Andrews’ tough approach despite cases in the state breaking daily records.

Aston noted that Ms Berejiklian had dragged NSW from ‘hopeless captivity to a semi-normal life’ and added that residents should be grateful.

He also took aim at FitzSimons in a series of columns, saying he was “too much even for Andrew Forrest” and labeling him a “pirate impersonator.”

In another piece, Aston discussed how FitzSimons, a Sydney Morning Herald columnist, had yet to write about Buddy Franklin’s 1,000th goal.

“This is unusual prudence, because Fitzy has an opinion about everything, a compulsion to share it, and an unwavering conviction of its high value,” he said.

“He even tweets his daily Wordle result, a whole new realm of banality.”

FitzSimons wrote a piece about the sports spectacle the day after.

He had been a harsh critic of Franklin’s move from Hawthorn to the Sydney Swans and later apologized after suggesting that the Swans leaders had “damned bricks in their heads” for splashing the money on Franklin.

“The Swans’ whole schtick over the past decade has been their ‘No D***heads’ selection policy, and for this reason they are undeniably Sydney’s most loved team,” wrote FitzSimons.

David Sharaz and Brittany Higgins sat with Wilkinson for five hours ahead of Ms Higgins' interview on The Project

David Sharaz and Brittany Higgins sat with Wilkinson for five hours ahead of Ms Higgins’ interview on The Project

“And in the middle of that great and arguably successful culture of the past decade, are you putting Buddy Franklin himself in for the NEXT decade?”

Aston then wrote: ‘There is no greater d***head than Peter FitzSimons’

“If there was an all-Australian team of idiots, Fitzy would be the captain and the most capped player.”

At The Project meeting, Ms Higgins broke down at several points as she outlined her alleged rape and the surrounding circumstances – speaking of several ministers, staffers and politicians she interacted with during that period.

During the conversation you could hear Wilkinson interject at various points to say she either knew who Mrs Higgins was referring to, brought up her biography, or referred to her childhood as a ‘nobody’ in Sydney’s Western Suburbs.

While the group ate corn chips, vegetable spring rolls and calamari, Mr. Sharaz asked Wilkinson what she had to gain from interviewing his girlfriend about her rape allegations.

“Champion for oppressed women,” she answered immediately.

“I’m always talking about exactly the same thing — the inequality that exists, whether it’s white privilege, whether it’s male domination, whether it’s criminal activity being suppressed.”

Wilkinson then mentioned her upbringing for the first time that day: ‘I’m a girl from Sydney’s Western Suburbs, I’ll always be motivated by exactly the same thing. People who deserve to be heard, not to be heard.’

Although Wilkinson, 63, grew up in Campbelltown, she also lived in Mosman, an affluent harborside suburb on Sydney’s lower north coast, for about 30 years before moving to a sprawling mansion with a tennis court in Cremorne.

The Project interview aired on February 15, 2021, sparking a wave of political, social, and media controversies that continue to make headlines to this day.

Mr. Lehrmann was charged with sexual assault in August that year and will be tried in October 2022 in the ACT Supreme Court. However, the trial was vacated for misconduct by a juror.

ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold subsequently dropped the charges altogether, citing concerns about Ms Higgins’ mental health.

Mr Lehrmann continues to maintain his innocence. Daily Mail Australia approached Joe Aston for comment.