Australia

'Vulgar attack': NSW National MP Steph Cooke hits back at 'barren' comment

Thirteen years after former prime minister Julia Gillard was called barren by Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan, the word has been levelled against a female Nationals MP in the NSW Parliament.

Cootamundra MP Steph Cooke, who does not have children, said it was "personally offensive in the extreme" to have her actions described as "barren" by Shooters MP Phil Donato.

Mr Donato used the term in a statement to the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday evening, as he objected to Ms Cooke amending his motion urging the government to install a supervised school crossing in Canowindra in his electorate of Orange.

Phil Donato (farthest right) with supporters following his by-election win in 2016.

Phil Donato (farthest right) with supporters following his by-election win in 2016. Credit:Danielle Cetinski

"Considering that my motion was regarding the issue of the safety of children, the amendment by the member for Cootamundra was not noble, not conscionable and barren of any consideration of children—those who are the most precious and vulnerable," Mr Donato said.

Cootamundra MP Steph Cooke said it was "offensive" to have her actions described as "barren".

Cootamundra MP Steph Cooke said it was "offensive" to have her actions described as "barren".

Mr Donato's complaint dates back to November when Ms Cooke moved an amendment that, in effect, deleted Mr Donato's motion and replaced it with sentences endorsing the government's "commitment to the road safety of school students across the state".

An emotional Ms Cooke responded to Mr Donato in the chamber on Wednesday, describing it as a "highly personal and vulgar attack" and "extremely distressing".

"I might be small in stature. I may be childless but that doesn't mean that I am bereft of a burning desire to protect children and better the lives of the people of NSW," Ms Cooke said.

Mr Donato claimed that his words had been "taken out of context".

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"I do apologise if she has taken offence to them. That wasn't the intention," Mr Donato said.

Speaking at a press conference where she was supported by Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Minister for Women Bronnie Taylor, Ms Cooke said she believed Mr Donato had deliberately deployed the term.

"There are a million words you could choose when describing the issue at hand," Ms Cooke said.

"It was very very deliberate."

Mr Barilaro said a fundamental shift was still needed in terms of respecting the decisions women made in regards to having a family.

"For Steph, the reasons are real, private and very sensitive," Mr Barilaro said.

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