As Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull fielded a question about a lack of female government MPs in Queensland, a male Coalition MP could not hide his frustration.
“Oh, this is f––ked,” Luke Howarth, the LNP member for Petrie, said on Thursday, according to Sky News.
Mr Howarth’s foul-mouthed reaction was said quietly but picked up by a live microphone.
It came at a media conference as a reporter noted that Mr Turnbull had been accompanied by a string of male government MPs during his trip to Queensland.
“Would you like to see more females among the LNP ranks in Queensland?” the reporter asked the PM.
Mr Turnbull replied: “Well, we always look forward to having, to seeing more women represented in our Parliaments and that is an objective of our party.”
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) September 21, 2017
At a media conference, Mr Howarth defended the Coalition’s record on women, adding: “There’s a lot of good women in the LNP and we always welcome more, ladies, if you want to join up.”
The PM said: “That’s right, we need more female candidates … Women hold up half the sky and you know, we would like them to hold up a larger part of the parliamentary seats as well.”
Mr Howarth’s hot-mic gaffe was seized on by Labor, which said it showed the Liberal Party was out of touch with modern attitudes towards women.
In a subsequent TV interview, Mr Howarth said he was “frustrated because I work with women on a daily basis”.
“And I went on to make the point that two of the assistant ministers are both women, Jane Prentice and Karen Andrews,” he told Sky News.
Mr Howarth noted the deputy opposition leader in Queensland, Deb Frecklington, was also a female Liberal MP.
“In my federal seat, I’ve got four state seats, three of the candidates are women,” he said. “The fact is I love working with women.
“People like myself just try to encourage good people, both men and women.”
Mr Howarth apologised for swearing and also conceded that the party could do better to its improve its female representation.
“If women don’t run, they can’t get elected,” he said. “We can always be better and we’ll continue to work on that.”
Of the Liberal National Party’s 21 Queensland federal MPs, three are women. The party also has five federal senators – all men.
Mr Howarth’s comment came on the same day Liberal MP Craig Kelly said he believed women breastfeeding in parliament was “a bit over-the-top”.
Former Greens senator Larissa Waters, who resigned over her dual Canadian citizenship in July, made international headlines when she became the first woman to breastfeed in parliament earlier in the year.
Mr Kelly told Sky News: “We’ve done a lot of things, we’ve seen some members breastfeeding in the chamber, which I thought was a bit over-the-top, but they were making a statement that we are trying to encourage women.”
He also said that life as an MP was “a lot harder” for women and that the “reality is federal parliament is a very female unfriendly place”.
Labor frontbencher Ed Husic said the Liberal Party should stop holding “its preselection meetings in a time machine”.
He said Mr Howarth had apologised only for the swearing and “not the sentiment”.
Mr Husic also hit out at Mr Kelly’s complaint about women breastfeeding in the chamber, saying that he should “get used to it”.
On Wednesday, Mark Parton, a Liberal member of the ACT’s Legislative Assembly, complained that the conversation about inclusion during same-sex marriage debate had focused on minority groups.
“But if you are a heterosexual white male over the age of 30, you’re not really included in anything,” he said.
“I know that those opposite would say that heterosexual white males over the age of 30 have opportunities aplenty, so we don’t need to look after them, they’ll be okay.”