News Limited columnist Piers Akerman has breathed new life into outrage over Prime Minister Julia Gillard being forced to defend the sexuality her partner, Tim Mathieson, by suggesting rumours about Mr Mathieson had been doing the rounds of the Canberra press gallery since 2010.
‘‘A lot of people in the Canberra gallery have been saying the same thing [as Perth radio host Howard Sattler],’’ Mr Akerman said on the ABC Insiders program to the evident shock of co-panelists.
Insiders host Barrie Cassidy immediately denounced Mr Akerman’s comment, saying: ‘‘You’ve just done precisely what Howard Sattler did and passed on rumours and that’s just as pathetic, quite frankly.’’
Mr Akerman initially denied passing on baseless rumours. ‘‘I passed on the same question that people said initially when she moved in. And nobody took it any further and that’s why I’m saying [Sattler] was wrong Barrie,’’ he said.
Later, Mr Akerman delivered an apology to Ms Gillard and Mr Mathieson, who he described as a ‘‘blokey bloke’’. ‘‘If the Prime Minister is watching, as she usually does, I hope she hasn’t taken any offence at anything I’ve said this morning,’’ Mr Akerman said.
Twitter immediately lit up with calls for Mr Akerman’s suspension from the show. The ABC did not return calls.
Perth radio station 6PR, owned by Fairfax Media, sacked Mr Sattler on Friday less than 24 hours after he asked the Prime Minister to comment on rumours that Mr Mathieson, a hairdresser by profession, was gay.
In a statement, 6PR said the line of questioning was ‘‘disrespectful’’ and ‘‘entirely inappropriate’’.
Ms Gillard has made it clear she will not comment on the matter for fear that it could turn young girls off aspiring to public office.