A cranky senator has been condemned by all sides of politics for calling a colleague a ‘naughty little girl’ during a committee hearing.
Labor MP Glenn Sterle chairs the regional and rural affairs committee and grew exasperated with a spat between two other members on Tuesday.
Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie was in an increasingly heated argument with Agriculture Minister Murray Watt over her question about dairy farming to an official from the Rural Research and Development Corporations.
‘We were doing so well,’ Senator Sterle said, about to intervene in the discussion in Senator McKenzie’s favour, when she continued to talk over him.
‘Senator McKenzie, do you always have to have the last word, I was going to defend you then… honestly, like a naughty little girl,’ he said in an angry tone.
‘Can you just be quiet while somebody else finishes? You don’t have to have the last word.’
Shadow Minister for Infrastructure Bridget McKenzie looks stunned after being called a ‘naughty little girl’
Another senator tried to interject, presumably to object to Senator Sterle’s comment, but was shut down.
‘No you can’t, because I’m about to do me block in a minute,’ he said, demanding that Senator McKenzie be allowed to continue in silence.
Greens senator Blidi Wreh-Wilson pressed him to withdraw his remarks but Senator Sterle refused: ‘I don’t care… because you’re all as bad as each other’.
‘I will not with draw it because I’m probably the easiest one to get along with, but at the moment you’re all going like this.’
In an unlikely alliance, Nationals senator Matt Canavan backed up his Greens colleague in asking Senator Sterle to withdraw.
‘Don’t, no Matt, do me a favour… don’t add to it because I’ve just told Peter no… I’m trying to keep some civility here,’ he replied, continuing to ask Senator McKenzie to continue.
Senator McKenzie immediately asked Senator Sterle to withdraw ‘calling me a naughty little girl’.
This time he relented: ‘Yes I will take that back, you’re not a naughty little girl, I apologise… now, do you want to ask your question?’
Labor Senator Glenn Sterle (pictured) has been condemned for calling a female senator a ‘naughty little girl’
Senator Sterle later made a more substantial apology after he was criticised even by senior Labor ministers.
‘I want to apologise for my outburst under pressure, there is no excuse for the language that I used,’ he told the committee.
‘I hope you will accept my apology. That was unlike me, but I’m not dodging it, it was out of order.’
The prime minister and attorney-general used the passing of workplace laws aimed at reducing sexual harassment on Monday to call for more respect towards women.
Women’s Minister Katy Gallagher condemned the comments.
‘Senator Sterle’s comments were unacceptable and he’s done the right thing by publicly apologising to Senator McKenzie,’ she told AAP.
Her cabinet colleague Mr Watt also branded the remark as unacceptable and ‘extremely unfortunate’.
‘I don’t want to see those kind of remarks made by any senator, no matter what their party is,’ he told reporters on Tuesday.
‘I’ve spoken with Glenn about it and I know he’s remorseful.
‘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.’
Senator McKenzie was in an increasingly heated argument with Agriculture Minister Murray Watt (pictured) over her question about dairy farming to an official from the Rural Research and Development Corporations
Elsewhere in parliament on Tuesday, super tax concessions are in the Albanese government’s line of sight as it looks for opportunities to boost revenue and repair the budget bottom line.
Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones said tax concessions on super funds are costly to government finances and are being used to amass wealth.
‘If the objective of super is to provide a tax-preferred means for estate planning, you could say it is doing its job,’ Mr Jones told the Australian Financial Review’s wealth and super summit.
Concessional taxation of super was introduced to encourage more people to save super rather than rely on the pension.
Under the rules, anybody can pay money into their super fund and it is taxed at 15 per cent, which is much less than the 45 per cent marginal rate high-income earners pay.
Mr Jones said there were 32 self-managed super funds with more than $100 million in assets.
‘I celebrate success, but the concessional taxation of funds like these has a real cost to the budget which needs to considered.’
Grattan Institute research has found the tax benefits of super tax concession are poorly targeted, with around 50 per cent of the tax benefits flowing to the wealthiest 20 per cent of households.
To make the system fairer, some groups have been arguing for a limit – say $5 million – on how much people can save within the super system.
‘The argument goes that you would simply pay income tax at normal rates rather than 15 per cent,’ H&R Block tax expert Mark Chapman explained.