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Nationals MP Andrew Broad, who is mired in a sordid personal scandal, will not contest the next election.
Mr Broad has told the party he is withdrawing his nomination for the seat Mallee, which he holds with a margin of almost 20 per cent. He intends to stay in parliament until the election.
“After recent media stories about my private life, it is clear that the people of Mallee will be best served in the next parliament by a different Nationals candidate,” Mr Broad said.
“I want to acknowledge and thank my family, my staff, Nationals members and the community for their support of me.
“I have tried my best and at times we have achieved good things, but I have also let them down.”
The new development comes as the fallout grows from New Idea’s article yesterday, alleging Mr Broad, who is married, had used the website SeekingArrangement to meet younger women on work trips.
A woman identified as Amy, who used the alias “Sweet Sophia Rose” on the “sugar baby” site, told the magazine she had met Mr Broad for dinner at the expensive Aqua restaurant in Hong Kong.
It didn’t go well.
Reacting to the article yesterday, Mr Broad said Amy “may have engaged in criminal activity” and he had referred the issue to the Australian Federal Police.
But the AFP issued a statement saying it had found no illegal conduct under Australian law.
Since then, Mr Broad has committed to immediately repay the $479.62 he spent on domestic flights that were part of the trip in question.
He said he had paid for the international leg of the trip himself.
Mr Broad told the New Daily he went to Hong Kong for a fruit and vegetable trade show, linked to his job as an MP, in September.
He said he was not one to “put myself on a moral high ground”, because he “made mistakes” just like anyone else.
“Government is imperfect people governing imperfect people,” he said.
Meanwhile, Nationals leader Michael McCormack is under increasing pressure over his own response to the scandal.
Yesterday Mr McCormack told reporters he found out about Mr Broad’s conduct two weeks ago, and advised the MP to refer the issue to the AFP.
But the AFP said it had received the referral weeks before then, on November 8.
“When asked today about the timing of Mr Broad’s notification to me of allegations against him in the media, I responded ‘a couple of weeks ago’ as I thought that was approximately the timing of that call,” Mr McCormack later said in response to the discrepancy.
“At the time, Mr Broad advised me that he had contacted someone overseas for a date and went out to dinner with the individual. He said nothing more than that had happened and that he was on a personal trip.
“Further, he told me the person had then made contact with him again after the dinner in circumstances I felt he should refer to the AFP.
“Based on the information provided to me by Mr Broad, I believed it was a matter for him and his family at that time.”
Mr McCormack said he had taken “swift and decisive action over the last 24 hours”.
But further revelations have called the Deputy Prime Minister’s claims of “swift” action into question.
The Herald Sun reports at least three women have contacted the National Party in the last year to complain about Mr Broad’s “sleazy” behaviour.
And the newspaper says senior Nationals are afraid those three women are just “the tip of the iceberg”.
Mr Broad responded to the story by text message.
“I have resigned, please respect my family,” he said.
Seeking Arrangement is a notorious website that promises to match men with younger women who are willing to spend time with them in return for money.
Earlier this year, news.com.au reported that more than 100,000 Australian university students had signed up to the site. It explicitly targets students, offering “relief” to those with large debts or HECS payments.
Amy told New Idea Mr Broad was “cocky” and “arrogant” when she met him in Hong Kong.
The MP reportedly bragged about his position in parliament and told her he was overseas for a “conference”, but “shouldn’t have been here at all”.
Amy claimed Mr Broad suggested he had booked a hotel room to “seduce” her in, despite the fact that she had put in her profile that she would not be intimate on dates.
“He kept grabbing my hand and putting it on his leg, so I excused myself and went to the bathroom and when I came back I told him I was leaving,” she said.
Amy also suggested Mr Broad lied about his age, and kept referring to himself as James Bond.
“I don’t think someone like that should be in a position of power and making decisions for the country,” she said.
“I think it’s pretty strange and risky of him to send me photos of him on the news. It appears he wanted to show off and told me he was a very important person.”
She said Mr Broad’s messages to her had turned to a “more sexual nature” in the lead-up to their date.
The embattled MP has been accused of hypocrisy in the wake of the scandal.
Mr Broad made headlines in 2016 after opposing same-sex marriage and comparing gay relationships to those between frisky rams.
“I think a bicycle is not a tricycle, and relationships can have different names,” he reportedly told the Sunraysia Daily.
“I can put the rams in a paddock and they might mount one another, but no lambs will come out.”
He also among the first to call for former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce to resign his position after it was revealed the MP was expecting a baby with his former staffer.
“I need to know as a member of parliament that the person who is going to be the acting prime minister has got their mind on the job,” Mr Broad said at the time.
“At this point in time it is not fit for Barnaby to … step up as acting PM”.
A former cereal and lamb farmer, Mr Broad won the Nuffield Scholarship in 2006 to study agriculture in more than 40 countries. The 43-year-old is a former president of the Victorian Farmers Federation and former director of the National Farmers Federation.