Australia

Nationals leader resists call to sack staffer over 'vile text' sent to female journalist

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The staffer claims the message was mistakenly sent to political journalist Annika Smethurst.

The treatment of women in parliament, including female political reporters, is in the spotlight once again after a Nationals staffer sent an expletive-laden text message to a female journalist.

The staffer in the office of Queensland Nationals Senator Barry O'Sullivan has been placed on "indefinite leave" and it's unclear if he will return to his job in parliament.

The unnamed staffer sent a text message last Sunday to award-winning News Corp political journalist Annika Smethurst.

Annika Smethurst at the 2017 Walkley Awards.
Annika Smethurst at the 2017 Walkley Awards.
News Corp Australia/AAP

The text contained terms such as "feminist c--t" and "bitch" and also conveyed the wish her family died of a "painful cancer".

The message was sent after Ms Smethurst \published an article on Senator O'Sullivan's track record dealing with women in politics.  

Nationals Leader Michael McCormack said the staffer has apologised and also explained that the message was mistakenly sent to Ms Smethurst and was actually intended for a friend.

"The text was very inappropriate in any circumstances in any context," he told Channel Nine's Today Show.

"But the fact is it was sent to the wrong person."

Nationals Senator Barry O'Sullivan.
Nationals Senator Barry O'Sullivan.
AAP

He said the message was sent from the staffer's privately-funded phone on his day off work.

"There are a lot of circumstances behind this, but they have been placed on indefinite leave. And we'll be working through him to counsel him.

"Whether or not he returns to the parliament - well that's a matter to see in the future."

Debate over the treatment of women in parliament reached fever pitch in November with the decision of Liberal MP Julia Banks to quit her party to serve as an independent over the way women.

"Across both major parties, the level of regard and respect for women in politics is years behind the business world," she said in her resignation speech.

Mr McCormack said he has made it clear the standard of behaviour expected in parliament.

"There is no place for these sorts of vile texts.

"Everybody has to be treated fairly in the workplace. That's what I stand for. That's what I represent. That is certainly what our parliament represents."

Deputy Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie condemned the language used in the text message, but added that the message was not intended for Ms Smethurst.

"Language that demeans women, or indeed anyone, has no place in the modern workplace," she said in a statement to the Sydney Morning Herald.

"It is my understanding the offending text was not intended for the recipient."

In 2016, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton apologised to political journalist Samantha Maiden after sending her a text message with the words "mad f---ing witch".

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