A federal government backbencher has denied yelling “at least I have my own children” at a gay Liberal opponent during her speech about childcare in parliament on Monday.
Victorian Labor MP Sam Rae said it was “absolutely not correct” that he yelled the remark at Queensland MP Angie Bell while she was arguing that the cost of early learning had increased under the government’s watch.
“The comments that have been attributed by some to me were not made by me, and would never be made by me,” Rae said in parliament after question time on Monday, adding it was incorrect that his interjection personally targeted Bell.
“I accept that interjections are always disorderly and apologise to the member for being disruptive during her speech. My comments made absolutely no reference to the member herself.”
Shortly after, Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley confronted Rae while he was surrounded by Labor colleagues, challenging him to clarify what he said.
In a statement, Ley described it as “an unacceptable slur”.
“Parliament is a workplace, and it is never acceptable in any workplace to use a woman’s personal circumstances to de-legitimise her contributions, this is a really disgusting development,” Ley said.
“When the prime minister promised a kinder, more respectful parliament, is this what he meant?”
In a letter to Speaker Milton Dick, seen by and , Bell invoked Kate Jenkins’ report into the shortcomings of the parliamentary workplace and urged Dick to remind MPs Rae’s alleged behaviour was unacceptable.
Federal parliamentarians recently adopted a recommendation from Jenkins’ to establish a code of conduct for MPs and their staffers.
In the letter, Bell said South Australian Liberal MP Tony Pasin heard Rae’s remark and responded to him.
In footage of Bell speaking during the morning, Pasin could be heard saying, “You’ll want to be careful with slurs like that, mate. You’ll get a reputation,” and “they’re trashing Angie about kids”.
Pasin declined to comment when contacted.
The words “I have kids” can be discerned through the shouting in the footage.
Labor backbencher Dr Mike Freelander, who was in the Speaker’s chair at the time, told and that Rae “might have said it, but I didn’t hear it”.
Freelander added that if he’d heard the remark as alleged, he would have asked Rae to withdraw it.
Bell – whose long-term partner has adult children – said Rae’s remarks weren’t an interjection, but “a slur on my family, and I think it should be outlined that it was unacceptable”.
Dick told parliament he reviewed the footage and spoke to Freelander, and didn’t hear the interjection in the footage, “but I want to remind all members of the importance of respectful debate in the chamber at all times”.
He said all MPs, “if they believe they have been spoken about in a way they believe is disrespectful … the time to raise that issue is when it happens”.
In her letter, Bell said she had been made aware of the statement after she’d finished her speech and wasn’t able to raise the issue in the house.
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