The treatment of a gay National Party candidate was wrong and has set the party back, New South Wales Nationals leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro has said.
- Rod Bruem says he was asked unacceptable questions at a National Party meeting because he is gay
- NSW Nationals leader says the treatment does not reflect “the values of the party”
- Barnaby Joyce says his party does not have a problem with gay candidates
At a party meeting to choose the next Nationals candidate for the safe seat of Lismore on Saturday, Rod Bruem complained he was subjected to unacceptable questions about his partner and personal history because he is gay.
The National Party’s constitution and ethics committee took one afternoon to dismiss Mr Bruem’s complaint, finding the questions were within the rules and did not impact the outcome.
When Mr Barilaro heard what happened he immediately rang Mr Bruem and apologised.
“It doesn’t represent my values and I don’t believe it represents the values of the party or my colleagues in the party room,” Mr Barilaro told 7.30.
“Questions based on innuendo, rumour or commentary on social media I don’t believe are appropriate and the question I ask myself [is] would those questions have been asked of any other candidate?
“The [answer] is no, so why would Rod have to endure those questions?
“What has happened to Rod, there’s no question, has set this party backwards, but my job now is to continue to have that conversation publicly and that’s why I’m the leader of the party. It’s my job to stand up when I see something has been wrong.”
Despite his strong feelings, Mr Barilaro said he accepted the findings of the constitution and ethics committee.
Barnaby Joyce says party isn’t homophobic
Mr Bruem was one of four candidates to have been endorsed by a branch so thought he was in with a good chance at Saturday’s preselection meeting.
But he was not prepared for questions about his sexuality.
“‘There is something else in your past that you are not telling us about and it’s time you opened up and told us about it.’ And I’m like what is this?” Mr Bruem said.
“This was to be the first of a series of leading questions going forward and with each one I felt increasingly sick in the stomach.
“They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with pushing their agendas in what was really a homophobic fashion in 2017.”
The National Party has rejected the claim that the questioning was homophobic in nature.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said his party does not have a problem with gay candidates.
“No, it doesn’t, no it doesn’t,” he said.
“I think people know enough about my myself and my office that we are far from homophobic and look, I don’t want to go through that ritualistic speech of, ‘I’ve got good mates who are gay’, but obviously we all do and I’ve always found, right back in Queensland when I was standing up for mates who came out as gay and I’d go into bat for them.”
Drug, violence claims ‘totally inaccurate’
Mr Bruem has worked for two federal politicians and in a senior media role for Telstra.
Four years ago he had a tree change, moving to Lismore with his partner Phil Terry where they run a farm and small business.
By nominating for the Nationals he knew he was opening himself up to scrutiny, but did not expect what came next.
There were Facebook posts and emails with claims of drugs and violence in his relationship.
Mr Terry said the claims were “totally inaccurate”.
“I don’t think anybody should be behaving like that or making those allegations,” he said.
At first Mr Bruem ignored the rumours.
“The person behind it continued with such claims and I think some of those claims were partly behind some of the questions in Saturday,” Mr Bruem said.
Party members ‘disgusted’ by treatment of Bruem
Wilf Jarrett, pictured with wife Betty, said he was upset by the questions asked of Rod Bruem. (ABC News: Michael Atkin)
National Party members of 32 years, Wilf and Betty Jarrett, were at the meeting and believe Mr Bruem was targeted unfairly.
“Yes, it upset me and a few of the people around me,” Mr Jarrett said.
“I think it was somebody trying to undermine Rod, whether it was one of the candidates or some of their supporters.
“I was disgusted … it was just out of the blue and to me it wasn’t relevant.”
Mr Bruem is calling for the Nationals to treat gay candidates equally.
“It’s not sour grapes at all. It’s actually just standing up for my rights as a human being and standing up for the party, so the party can be accepting and attract the best people,” he said.
“I’ve probably lost interest actually in running for the Nationals going forward in light of what’s happened.”