Labor senator apologises for calling Nationals senator ‘a naughty little girl’

Labor Senator Glenn Sterle has apologised for calling Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie “a naughty little girl” during a Senate estimates hearing, as he admonished her for supposedly interrupting proceedings.

Sterle eventually withdrew the remark after he was prevailed upon to do so by other senators in the hearing, but the comment has refocused attention on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s pledge to improve parliamentary standards.

Labor senator Glenn Sterle apologised for calling Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie a “naughty little girl” during an estimates hearing.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Sterle, who was chairing the regional and rural affairs committee on Tuesday when he made the comment, addressed the matter again during a later hearing offering a more fulsome apology to McKenzie.

“There is no excuse for the language that I used. I hope you will accept my apology,” he said, adding the comments were “out of order”.

Deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley said the comments were “unacceptable” and noted they were made in the same week that Labor passed laws recommended by the [email protected] report.

“Is this the respectful workplace Anthony Albanese promised us?” Ley said.

The incident unfolded as McKenzie was seeking to ask questions of a dairy organisation when the hearing devolved into a messy exchange with senators talking across each other.

In a video of the exchange, McKenzie can be heard saying to other senators: “I would like to continue my questions … you’ve both been yabbering at me” before Sterle interjected and sought to regain control of the hearing.

“We’ve been going so well,” Sterle said, before adding: “Senator McKenzie, do you always have to have the last word? I was going to defend you then. Honestly, like a naughty little girl. Can you just be quiet while someone finishes, you don’t have to have the last word”.

Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson immediately seized on the remarks and sought a point of order, insisting they be withdrawn, but Sterle refused, saying “I’m going to do me [sic] block in a minute”.

“No, I will not withdraw it because I am probably the most easiest [sic] one to get along with,” Sterle said.

He eventually apologised when McKenzie insisted the comment be withdrawn, saying: “Yes, well, I take that back. You are not a naughty little girl. I apologise. Now, do you want to ask your question?” As she resumed talking, the Labor senator could be heard saying: “You do like the last word”.

Following the exchange, Agriculture Minister Murray Watt, who was at the hearing, told reporters Sterle’s comments were “completely unacceptable” and said he had discussed the matter with him.

“He’s made his apology but it’s utterly unacceptable for those kinds of remarks to be made in any workplace environment or in society as a whole,” Watt said.

It is the second incident in recent weeks that has prompted the Coalition to question Labor’s commitment to improving the culture of Parliament House. Liberal National Party MP Michelle Landry last month accused Albanese of bullying behaviour in question time, saying she felt “humiliated” by his response to her question about road funding.

The prime minister rejected the accusation at the time, saying footage of the incident clearly showed he was responding to interjections by Opposition Leader Peter Dutton who he mocked for confusing two different parts of Queensland.

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