Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has backed Labor’s Nova Peris as an honest person amid claims she sought taxpayer funds to help carry on an extra-marital affair with fellow Olympian Ato Boldon.
Senator Peris, an Olympic gold medallist and former Young Australian of the Year, reportedly approached Athletics Australia and others sources for money to pay for the sprint star’s 2010 trip to Australia.
Explicit emails published by News Corp newspapers on Wednesday appear to show the pair was having an affair at the time.
Senator Peris, who joined parliament last year, says she will not comment on private matters.
“I categorically reject any wrongdoing,” she said in a statement.
“Documents provided to the NT News are private. It appears they were not lawfully obtained by a third party.”
Mr Shorten says the reports are “deeply personal” and he believes Senator Peris is a “great Australian”.
“She’s rejected any wrongdoing. I take Senator Peris at her word,” Mr Shorten told Fairfax Radio.
“I’ve found Senator Peris in my dealings with her to be an honest person.”
Mr Boldon, an athlete from Trinidad and Tobago, says the reports include “gross fabrications”.
In a statement released on Twitter, he says he will be “pursuing all legal action possible for this malicious misrepresentation of the details surrounding my presence in Australia in 2010”.
He says Senator Peris, who joined parliament last year, was a former training partner and a friend of almost 20 years.
“My last trip to Australia almost five years ago was for the purpose of holding several youth clinics, and it was a successful undertaking. The trip was co-organised by one of my now-deceased colleagues at Athletics Australia.”
Ms Peris’ Labor colleagues rallied to her defence.
Frontbencher Tony Burke said he had the highest regard for Senator Peris.
“Nova Peris is an extraordinary person,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“We are a better parliament because Nova Peris is in it.”
Fellow frontbencher Jenny Macklin said Senator Peris was an outstanding representative for indigenous people in Australia.
Labor MP Ed Husic said he has been “enormously impressed” with Senator Peris in the time they’ve worked together.
Athletics Australia released a statement confirming the details of Mr Boldon’s visit.
“Senator Peris played a role in establishing our initial contact with Mr Boldon,” it confirmed.
The organisation paid the cost of his return flights from Los Angeles to Melbourne, his accommodation and some reasonable expenses incurred during the visit.
He “capably fulfilled” his role and helped boost the profile of the program he was attached to, and the sport of athletics in general, the statement said.