In a Senate hearing on Wednesday, Labor senator Alex Gallacher asked whether foreign minister Julie Bishop had organised flowers for a function at her office... given that she's a woman.
After a bunch of questions about a pre-Budget function – including who set it up, who was there, and who did the catering – Gallacher asked: "Given that the 38th foreign minister is probably the only female in the list of Australian foreign ministers, were there decorations, including flowers?"
Coalition senator Zed Seselja immediately asked: "Why is that relevant?"
Bishop's office sent out this statement in response: "This might come as a shock to Labor senator Gallacher but Australia’s first female foreign minister spends her time focusing on serious issues of Australia’s national security and other important matters of state."
Gallacher's remark led to an argument between Seselja and Labor senator Penny Wong, after Seselja suggested Wong should be outraged by the comment.
Seselja: I'm not really sure what the relevance was of senator Gallacher's question just then, that because it's a female foreign minister we have to know about decorations and flowers. I'm not really sure about that. I would have thought that if a Coalition senator had asked that perhaps Senator Wong would have been up in arms right now–
Wong: I love this.
Seselja: –but I don't see the relevance.
Wong: That's great.
Seselja: Well you would have been.
Seselja: Why is it relevant?
Wong: I'm supposed to comment on everything always, am I? Everything to do with gender or race? Come on, give us a break.
Wong told BuzzFeed News that Bishop's gender is "irrelevant to her performance as foreign minister" – but then took aim at Seselja and other Coalition senators for their silence over remarks directed her way.
"If Coalition senators are so outraged at such language, I look forward to them taking action against senator [Ian] Macdonald who last week referred to me as a 'precious petal' and told me to 'get out of the kitchen'," she said.
Gallacher apologised for any offence caused by the question later on Wednesday.
"Before lunch there was imputations taken from a line of questioning that I put in respect to the foreign minister which were clearly not my intention," he said.
"There's no intention in any way, shape or form to align motives aligning to the sex or otherwise of the foreign minister. Whether I asked about flowers or not is not a question that was relevant in that way. So if anybody took offence I sincerely apologise for that."
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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