Coalition MP caught swearing when asked about women in Liberal Party

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with local member for Petrie Luke Howarth at the North Lakes Community Centre in Brisbane on Monday 9 May 2016. Election2016 Photo: Andrew Meares
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with local member for Petrie Luke Howarth at the North Lakes Community Centre in Brisbane on Monday 9 May 2016. Election2016 Photo: Andrew Meares

A Coalition MP has been caught on microphone dismissing a question about female representation in the Liberal Party as "f---ed".

The Liberal National Party's Luke Howarth was appearing next to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at a press conference in Brisbane when they were asked about female MPs in Queensland.

Sky News reporter Jackson Williams began his question with a preamble: "On your trip to Queensland, yesterday you were with a male MP Trevor Evans, now you're with a male federal MP and a state MP, then later today you're going to another event with two male MPs."

At that point, Mr Howarth was heard to interject: "Oh, this is f---ed." The audio was not perfectly clear and Sky News reported Mr Howarth as saying: "Oh this f---."

Williams then completed his question: "Would you like to see more female MPs in LNP ranks in Queensland?"

The Prime Minister answered: "We always look forward to seeing more women represented in our parliaments and that is an objective of our party. We have great Queensland colleagues - Jane Prentice I was texting with her yesterday ... and I was with her very recently."

Mr Howarth then noted Ms Prentice was the Assistant Minister for Social Services and that Karen Andrews, also from Queensland, is the Assistant Minister for Vocational Education.

"And out in my area you've got a great team in Kara Thomas, Kerri-Anne Dooley, Tracy Davis who was a minister in the Newman government. So there's a lot of good women in the LNP and we always welcome more. So ladies if you want to join up..."

Mr Turnbull then stepped in to add: "We need more female candidates. Women hold up half the sky and we'd like them to hold up a larger part of the parliamentary seats as well."

The number of female Liberal MPs after the last election dropped to its lowest number in 25 years. In the current Parliament, women represent 21 per cent of Liberal MPs, 14 per cent of Nationals MPs and 44 per cent of Labor MPs. The Liberal Party has a target of 50 per cent female representation by 2025.

The audio was first aired by Sky News and Fairfax Media later spoke with Mr Howarth, who stuck to his ground.

"I thought it was a frustrating question," he said. "I answered at the end what I thought - particularly in my area, we have a lot of strong people running. Mark my words, at the upcoming state election, LNP women will be elected."

But Mr Howarth said he should not have sworn and apologised if the comment had made it to air.

"It was just mumbled under my breath to myself, more at frustration at the question," he said.

"I guess you can't mumble things under your breath. I wasn't speaking in front of the microphone, the camera wasn't even on me I don't think. No one else heard it. It must be the you-beaut microphones they've got now.

"I just think it's an unfair question given that we have two assistant ministers in safe seats and we do have good representation."

"What can I say? If people heard that, I'm sorry. It's a bad habit, I shouldn't do it."

Also on Thursday, Mr Howarth's Liberal Party colleague Craig Kelly told Sky News it was "a bit over the top" for female MPs to breastfeed their children in the chamber, as Greens senator Larissa Waters did in June.

"I thought was a bit over the top but they were making a statement that we're trying to encourage women," he said, noting Federal Parliament could be "a very female unfriendly place".

The incidents followed a remarkable photo posted by former prime minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday, addressing a meeting of the Newtown Young Liberals, in which only two women appeared to be present in the audience.

- with Stephanie Peatling

This story Coalition MP caught swearing when asked about women in Liberal Party first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.