Michaelia Cash: Australia minister accused of 'sexist' threat

Michaelia Cash in 2016 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Michaelia Cash is a former minister for women

An Australian government minister has been criticised after she threatened to name female political staffers "over which... rumours abound".

Jobs Minister Michaelia Cash made the comment as she was trying to fend off Labor questioning during a Senate Estimates hearing.

Ms Cash, the former minister for women, did not elaborate on her statement, which she later retracted.

Political opponents said the remark was "sexist" and "disgraceful".

It follows a month when Australian political debate has been dominated by scrutiny of former deputy leader Barnaby Joyce's relationship with an ex-staffer.

On Wednesday, Ms Cash was being questioned about her chief of staff's employment record when she told an opposition senator to be "very, very careful" about discussing staff matters.

"I am happy to sit here and name every young woman in [Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten's] office over which rumours in this place abound," she said.

"If you want to go down that path today, I will do it."

Ms Cash initially defended her comments, but retracted them after Labor senator Penny Wong accused her of making "outrageous slurs about the character of female staff".

"If anyone has been offended, I withdraw," Ms Cash said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull did not comment on the controversy on Wednesday.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp reported it was "yet another example of the change in tone at Parliament House, and increased scrutiny of people's private lives" since the scandal that engulfed Mr Joyce.

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