Nationals MP Andrew Broad will quit Parliament at the next election after it emerged he had dinner in Hong Kong with a young woman he met via a website that connects older “sugar daddies” with younger women.
Mr Broad acknowledged he had let his family, party and community down as he announced on Tuesday he would not contest the election expected in May. He holds the safe Victorian rural seat of Mallee, the potential loss of which would be a huge blow to the party.
"After recent media stories about my private life, it is clear that the people of Mallee will be best served in the next Parliament by a different Nationals candidate," he said.
He thanked his family, staff, the Nationals party and the community for their support.
"I have done my best and at times we have achieved good things, but I have also let them down," he said.
His resignation opens the way for other Victorian Nationals to snare the plum seat, including deputy leader Bridget McKenzie who currently sits in the Senate.
The government's grip on the House of Representatives is already precarious. It has 73 votes in the chamber of 150 seats. It faces a difficult vote over medical transfers from offshore detention when Parliament resumes in February and would be even more vulnerable if Mr Broad were to resign immediately.
News of Mr Broad's planned resignation from politics follows Nationals leader Michael McCormack effectively calling on the embattled MP to quit over the scandal, saying he wants his troops to be focused entirely on serving voters.
Asked during a press conference in Queensland on Tuesday morning whether he’d like to see Mr Broad stand aside, Mr McCormack said: “I think he should consider his future. I do.
“I think he's got more concerns at the moment with sorting out his own personal issues. I would like to think that somebody who was going to represent the National Party is entirely focused on the people we serve.
“I don’t want them focussed on the sorts of things that we've seen uncovered in magazine articles in the last 24 hours.”
The married Mr Broad travelled to Hong Kong in September and went on date with a woman known as "Sophia Rose". She was reportedly unimpressed by him during the dinner.
But he used taxpayer money to pay for a domestic leg of his flights to reach Hong Kong.
Mr McCormack said he knew nothing of allegations by three other women of inappropriate behaviour by Mr Broad until he read of them in Tuesday’s newspapers.
Facing further questions over when he knew of the Hong Kong scandal and what action he took when he was told, Mr McCormack defended his incorrect characterisation on Monday that he’d learnt of Mr Broad’s date “a couple of weeks ago”.
In fact it became clear from a statement by the Australian Federal Police - whom Mr Broad asked to investigate the young woman he met in Hong Kong - that Mr McCormack knew at least since November 8.
“I said yesterday that was a couple of weeks ago. I thought it was a couple of weeks ago,” Mr McCormack said. “I don't carry around every time and event in my back pocket ready to answer questions on the spot by the media but as I understand, it was a few weeks ago.”
Pressed on why he didn’t take firmer action five-and-a-half weeks ago, Mr McCormack said Mr Broad had told him he’d been on a date with a woman he met online but did not tell him all of the details about lurid text messages that were published on Monday by New Idea magazine.
Mr McCormack said he had regarded the events then as “mainly a ... matter between him and his family".
Soon after the allegations became public on Monday, Mr Broad quit as assistant minister to Mr McCormack - a frontbench role he has held since August.
Mr McCormack denied this case was further evidence the Coalition had a problem with women.
“Both the women in my party, Bridget McKenzie, my deputy leader, and Michelle Landry, are ministers and certainly the women's council of the National Party at a federal and at a state level are doing a fantastic job to encourage more women to put their hands up for office.”