Malcolm Turnbull

Minister withdraws threat to out 'rumours' on female Shorten staff

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Jobs and Innovation Minister Michaelia Cash has been criticised by Labor after threatening to publicise rumours about female staff at the opposition leader's office.

Cabinet minister Michaelia Cash has been forced to retract comments in which she threatened to make public “rumours” about female staff at Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s office.

Senator Cash made the remark as Labor senator Doug Cameron pressed the minister about her new chief-of-staff during a Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday.

"If you want to start discussing staff matters be very, very careful because I'm happy to sit here and name every young woman in Mr Shorten's office over which rumours in this place abound," Senator Cash responded at the Senate hearing on Wednesday.

“If you want to go down that path today, I will do it.”

Senator Cash said the line of questioning was a “dangerous path to go down” for Senator Cameron.

“Do you want to start naming them?” she said.

“For Mr Shorten to come out and deny any of the rumours that have been circulating in this building now for many, many years.”

Senator Cash, a former minister for women, has been under pressure throughout the estimates hearings over the Australian Worker's Union raid late last year.

A media advisor from Senator Cash's office resigned last year after it was revealed media were tipped off about the raid in advance, arriving before police.

AFP officers executed the warrants in Sydney and Melbourne after the Registered Organisations Commission flagged fears documents were being tampered with or destroyed.

Labor Senate Leader Penny Wong criticised Senator Cash's female staffer remarks, pointing out Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had in recent weeks stressed the importance of making parliament a better workplace for women.

"I think it's disgraceful and sexist and it is impugning on the character of staff," Senator Wong said.

Senator Cash said she was simply stating rumours often circulated around Parliament, but that did not make them true.

"If anyone has been offended by my remarks, I withdraw," she added.

Deputy Labor Leader Tanya Plibersek said Senator Cash should apologise for using a Senate hearing "to attack young women working in politics".

"Her comments undermine the professionalism of the many competent, intelligent, hardworking young women who work on all sides of politics. The comments are disgraceful + sexist - she should apologise," she tweeted.

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