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Liberal MP blasts Neal as 'thug' -

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Liberal MP blasts Neal as 'thug'

The World Today - Thursday, 12 June , 2008 12:10:00

Reporter: Alexandra Kirk

EMMA ALBERICI: Life isn't getting any easier for Federal Labor backbencher Belinda Neal.

Today she's being pursued further by Liberal backbencher Sophie Mirabella, who's labelled Ms Neal a
"bully" and a "thug". Ms Mirabella is considering taking action against Ms Neal over alleged
abusive comments she made to the pregnant MP, but later withdrew.

The acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard has rejected a claim by a Government backbencher who
maintains Belinda Neal is being treated differently because she's a woman.

Ms Gillard insists the same treatment will be handed out to any MP displaying bad behaviour,
regardless of their gender.

From Canberra, Alexandra Kirk reports.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Belinda Neal has received two red cards - one from the Prime Minister and a
two-match ban from local women's soccer.

After a phone conversation with Kevin Rudd, she said she agreed she'll "attend counselling to deal
with conflicts with other people" as soon as possible.

Ms Neal, who was elected to the seat of Robertson on the New South Wales Central Coast last
November, holds her seat by the slimmest of Labor margins.

She's denied swearing or threatening staff at the Iguanas night club and denied claims she kicked
her soccer opponent while she was on the ground. Belinda Neal says her boot made contact with her
opponent's boot.

She also disputes Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella's claim that she told the pregnant MP her baby would
be a demon. Ms Neal says she didn't use those words.

The counselling, Belinda Neal says, is so "these types of incidents don't happen in the future".

Despite all the denials, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard defends the Government's decision to
send Belinda Neal to anger management counselling.

JULIA GILLARD: There was an incident in a restaurant. Obviously it was reported in the newspapers.
There was a further matter reported on yesterday. Obviously I wasn't aware of the matter until I
saw it in the newspaper but it relates to an incident playing soccer. You know, putting those two
things together I was obviously concerned about them. People would also be aware that there was a
matter involving an exchange in Parliament which has been the subject of public attention.

And on the basis of those things, I discussed the matter with the Prime Minister yesterday, we
agreed that he would speak to Belinda Neal and the rest of it is very much now in the public domain
and reported, and Belinda Neal will be seeking some professional guidance in relation to these
matters and I think that that's the appropriate course.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Opposition is not letting the matter rest, demanding Ms Neal make a formal
explanation to Parliament next week. Within Labor there's a mixed response. Some senior figures are
concerned the Prime Minister and his office have overreacted. Labor backbencher Julia Irwin thinks
Belinda Neal is the victim of sexism.

JULIA IRWIN: Why is it that women are singled out by reporting of these incidents? Why the Cheryl
Kernot, the Kelly Hoare and now Belinda Neal? Why not the men? I have been in the Federal
Parliament for 10 years and I can think of a dozen occasions where men have behaved offensively.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: She also raises the behaviour of former Labor leader Mark Latham.

JULIA IRWIN: I cannot recall any party action being taken against Mark Latham after he broke a taxi
driver's arm.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Julia Gillard says there's no double standard.

JULIA GILLARD: I think she's got it wrong. Obviously I was centrally involved in these events
yesterday and everything I did yesterday I would have done exactly the same had it been a male
member of Parliament.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella thinks there is a double standard, though not a
gender-based one.

SOPHIE MIRABELLA: To try and turn Belinda Neal now into the victim is really going against the
whole new philosophy of Kevin Rudd that we all need to accept personal responsibility and that the
buck stops with him.

I think Belinda Neal can stand on her own two feet. When I think of Belinda I think of a bully and
a thug, and those terms are not gender specific.

Now, we do have a pattern of behaviour from the Labor Party. We had Mark Latham calling a female
journalist a "skanky ho" and he was criticised and condemned all around except - except from anyone
from the Labor Party. What this illustrates to me and I think to a lot of other people is that
there are double standards. When there's a Labor mate or factional colleague in trouble, you've got
to shut down the story and support them and there's no room for an objective standard of behaviour.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Neither Kevin Rudd nor Julia Gillard are supporting Belinda Neal in this case.

SOPHIE MIRABELLA: Well they haven't come out and condemned her behaviour. Can you imagine if
Malcolm Turnbull or Tony Abbott or Brendan Nelson had said those comments to a pregnant Labor woman
that their child would turn into a demon? Their head would have been demanded on a platter.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Mrs Mirabella says she's seeking advice on whether to take action against Ms Neal
over the comments about her unborn child.

SOPHIE MIRABELLA: Belinda Neal in Parliament twice denied making those comments to me and then
apologised the next morning, but she withdraw comments she never agreed she made.

I'm not allowed to fly to Canberra any more, I'm three weeks away from having my first child, but
the matter, I'm taking advice and I'm relying on my colleagues to investigate the matter further of
Belinda Neal misleading Parliament. It's a very serious issue and I think Belinda Neal has got away
relatively scot-free.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Belinda Neal was unavailable to be interviewed, but in a statement has told The
World Today: "This matter has already been brought to a conclusion. The comments have been
withdrawn and I have already expressed my regret for having made them."

EMMA ALBERICI: Alexandra Kirk with that report.