The allegations against Peter Dowling, a member of Queensland state’s ruling conservative Liberal National Party, emerged after the Courier-Mail newspaper reported yesterday that a woman claiming to be the politician’s mistress sent a letter detailing their two-and-a-half-year affair to state parliament speaker Fiona Simpson.
The newspaper said it had seen several explicit text messages between Mr Dowling and the woman, including a picture of a penis resting in a glass of wine.
Yesterday morning, Mr Dowling – who, according to his website, has two children with his wife of 27 years – stood before his fellow MPs and offered an apology.
“I owe my family an apology. I am sorry for the pain and embarrassment I caused you,” he told parliament. “I am not proud of the events plastered all over the paper. I can’t and won’t defend any part of it.”
The woman said she genuinely believed their affair would end in marriage. She said Mr Dowling told her he loved her and “conned” her into believing the pair would wed after the 2015 election.
Her name was not released and her face was blacked out in the published photos. Dowling is also accused of taking advantage of parliament business trips to meet the woman.
Mr Dowling acknowledged he accepted more than A$20,000 (£11,700) worth of free flight upgrades. Queensland’s parliament exempts travel upgrades from its rules that politicians declare all gifts worth more than A$500.
Mr Dowling denied he had violated any disclosure rules, but said he was stepping down as ethics committee chairman and from the parliamentary crime and misconduct committee until an investigation by the clerk of parliament into his travel is complete.
“In relation to the allegations made to the use of travel allowances, I can assure the house that I have complied fully with all the guidelines and requirements of the parliament,” he said in parliament. “However, I do not wish for this issue and for my family to be dragged through the media any longer than necessary. I will answer any questions, front any investigation.”
While a revelation of infidelity is not necessarily politically fatal in Australia, it becomes so if it exposes abuse of office or hypocrisy in politicians who campaign on morality or family values. Liberal MP Ross Cameron, once a rising star among conservatives, saw his career implode after he confessed in 2004 to having an affair while his wife was pregnant. Mr Cameron, who used to lead prayer meetings at Parliament House, was seen as a hypocrite for his behaviour and lost his seat later that year.
Mr Dowling may have a particularly tough time finding forgiveness in Queensland, a socially conservative state where traditional, rural values still run deep. Until the late 1980s, Queensland only allowed the sale of Playboy magazines that had been heavily edited to remove photos of exposed female genitalia.