The Morrison government is facing a growing scandal over former assistant minister Andrew Broad, amid revelations he used taxpayer funds for part of his travel to Hong Kong to meet a "sugar baby" he then asked the police to investigate.
Mr Broad flew at taxpayer expense on the domestic leg of the journey in early September to meet the "blonde beauty" who used the online alias "Sweet Sophia Rose" on a website to connect young women with wealthier older men.
The scandal overshadowed the government's budget update and forced the Nationals MP to quit the frontbench, with Coalition sources saying he was willing to repay any cost to taxpayers for his travel.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack claimed on Monday morning he had only known of the matter for "a couple of weeks" but a police statement later revealed the scandal had gone to authorities almost six weeks ago, on November 8.
The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald have confirmed Mr Broad was in Hong Kong in early September for a food exhibition and travelled between his home town of Mildura and Melbourne at taxpayer expense to connect to international flights.
The visit is now the subject of a tabloid sex scandal after New Idea published claims by "Sophia Rose" that he had sent her messages online before they met at the prestigious Aqua restaurant in Hong Kong.
"I’m an Aussie lad, I know how to ride a horse, fly a plane and f--- my woman. My intentions are completely dishonourable," he said in one message reported in the magazine.
The woman said Mr Broad also sent her a text message saying: "I’ve booked a flashy room to seduce you back to."
When "Sophia Rose" told him Australian accents were sexy, he is said to have replied: "I pull you close, run my strong hands down your back, softly kiss your neck and whisper 'G'day mate'."
The scandal not only knocked the government off course but came after months of debate over attitudes to women in federal Parliament and how to increase the number of female MPs within the Coalition.
Mr Broad, who is married with one child, argued strongly for traditional marriage and religious freedom during the debate over same sex marriage, at one point threatening to cross the floor if the government abandoned a plebiscite on the issue.
The relationship went no further than the restaurant, "Sophia Rose" told the magazine, because she grew unhappy at Mr Broad’s complaints about the expenses in Hong Kong and she left him at that point.
Mr Broad declined to answer questions on whether his trip was government or private business and whether he covered his own expenses or accepted part of his travel as a gift from others.
The Nationals MP has not made any disclosure for the period on the register of members' interests, the parliamentary record that would show any flight, accommodation or other gifts.
Food exporters from his electorate of Mallee, in regional Victoria, were surprised to see Mr Broad at the Asia Fruit Logistica exhibition in September.
"On day one or day two he dropped around our stand to say g'day," said Mildura Fruit Company general manager Perry Hill.
"He suggested he'd come up to have a look at the good things in Hong Kong for the producers of the Mildura region."
Amid wild rumours of blackmail or other offences, Mr Broad said in a brief statement that he had referred "Sophia Rose" to the Australian Federal Police.
"I have been advised that the person making the allegation may have engaged in criminal activity," Mr Broad told New Idea.
"This matter has been reported to the Australian Federal Police and I will not be making any further comment."
While Mr McCormack also cited the police investigation to fend off questions on Monday over the affair, the AFP issued a statement making it clear it had already determined there was no evidence of a crime under Australian law.
Mr McCormack’s statement that he learnt of the case "a couple of weeks ago" and prompted Mr Broad to go to the police also came under question when the AFP revealed they received the complaint from Mr Broad nearly six weeks ago.
A spokesman for the AFP said late on Monday it "received a referral from Andrew Broad MP on 8 November".
The spokesman also said the information was assessed and "no applicable offences under Australian law have been identified".
The AFP statement led the Deputy Prime Minister to clarify when and what he told Mr Broad after learning of the matter almost six weeks ago.
"When asked today about the timing of Mr Broad’s notification to me of allegations against him in the media, I responded “a couple of weeks ago” as I thought that was approximately the timing of that call," Mr McCormack said on Monday night.
"At the time, Mr Broad advised me that he had contacted someone overseas for a date and went out to dinner with the individual. He said nothing more than that had happened and that he was on a personal trip to Hong Kong.
"Further, he told me the person had then made contact with him again after the dinner in circumstances I felt he should refer to the AFP, if he had not already done so. Based on the information provided to me by Mr Broad, I believed it was a matter for him and his family at that time."
Mr McCormack did not name a date when he first spoke to Mr Broad about the matter but noted the AFP confirmed it was notified on November 8.
Mr McCormack earlier said he had urged Mr Broad to go to the police, but he did not answer a question directly about whether he was concerned about the MP’s conduct.
"I urged him to go to the AFP. The AFP is investigating it. The fact is they’re very diligent, they’re very earnest and they will uncover, if there has been impropriety done, they will uncover that," Mr McCormack said.
"Mr Broad has made the right decision this morning when I accepted his resignation.
"I want to make sure that all of my ministers, all of my members are doing the right thing.
"The National Party stands for better regional services. We do what is right for regional Australia and these sorts of things, they take away from the good message that we are selling.
"We have been a very good government."
Neither Mr Broad nor Mr McCormack explained on Monday what crime Mr Broad was alleging the woman Sophia Rose might have committed.
Sky News commentator Peta Credlin said the scandal would cost the government because of a backlash from voters in Mallee.
"I grew up there. They’ll take a very dim view of this sort of carry-on from a married bloke," Ms Credlin said.
While some Nationals argued Mr Broad could stay in Parliament and should not be punished for behaviour in his private life, others acknowledged the party might have to find another candidate to hold the seat.
David Crowe is Chief Political Correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.