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Australian senator sues colleague over comments about her sex life

The lawsuit is over what Leyonhjelm said in the media, as his upper house comments are protected by parliamentary privilege.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, and Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, and Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm.
Image: AAP/PA Images

AN AUSTRALIAN SENATOR is suing a fellow parliamentarian over comments sparked by a heated upper house debate where he told her to “stop shagging men”, saying she wants to stop such “sexist and reprehensible” behaviour.

David Leyonhjelm made the derogatory remarks about Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young in June during an upper house session on legalising pepper spray to protect women.

Leyonhjelm, a Liberal Democrat, did not dispute what he said and made further comments about Hanson-Young’s life in media appearances, including on Sky News.

The defamation proceedings, filed in the Federal Court this week, are reportedly the first by a sitting Australian politician against another parliamentarian under national laws introduced in 2006.

The lawsuit involves what Leyonhjelm said in the media. His upper house comments are protected by parliamentary privilege.

“The defamatory statements… are an attack on my character, and have done considerable harm to me and my family,” Hanson-Young said in a statement, adding that his behaviour was “sexist and reprehensible”.

I’m calling this out because it is wrong. No woman, whether she be working behind a bar, in an office or in the parliament, deserves to be treated this way, and it needs to stop.

Sky News apologised for the comments broadcast on the network. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called on Leyonhjelm to apologise, but the senator refused.

This is not the first time the issue of sexism has been raised in Australia’s legislative chambers.

Former prime minister Julia Gillard became a torchbearer for women around the world in 2012 with her fiery speech about misogyny in parliament, where she accused then-opposition leader Tony Abbott of sexism.

Hanson-Young, who is divorced, said last month that Leyonhjelm’s comments suggested said was “sexually promiscuous”, adding that he was “slut-shaming” her.

The Liberal Democrats said in a statement Thursday that their senator would “strenuously” defend the defamation suit, adding that it “has no merit”.

Hanson-Young has started a legal fund on the GoFundMe campaigning website to support her case, with more than Aus$60,000 (€38,151) raised so far.

She pledged to donate any damages she is awarded from the case to Plan International and the Working Women’s Centre SA.

© AFP 2018 

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