Gladys Berejiklian has been left ‘shocked and distressed’ by sexual assault allegations against families minister Gareth Ward.
Liberal MP Mr Ward, 39, stood down from the NSW ministry last night after confirming he is under investigation over violent sex offences that allegedly occurred in 2013.
According to reports, the alleged crimes happened in a hotel room against an adult.
In a brief press conference on Friday morning, Ms Berejiklian said: ‘I think all of us were incredibly shocked and distressed by what unfolded yesterday afternoon’.
Minister for Families, Gareth Ward, released a statement confirming he’d stepped aside but denied any wrong doing. Pictured with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian
‘None of us will tolerate behaviour that is regarded as completely unacceptable.’
The premier added: ‘I asked him if he’d done anything wrong. He denied any wrongdoing.
‘He was very categoric in saying police had not contacted him as yet.’
Last night Mr Ward, who as families minister was responsible for 17,000 vulnerable children, released a statement confirming he’d stepped down as a Liberal MP and will sit on the cross bench.
‘Today I have been made aware by a journalist of an investigation into me by NSW Police,’ he said.
‘I have not been contacted by Police in relation to any allegations. I deny any wrongdoing.
‘Until this matter is resolved, it is appropriate I stand aside from my role as Minister. I will also remove myself from the Liberal Party room.
‘I will not be making any further comment at this time.’
NSW Families Minister Gareth Ward has stood aside after confirming he is under investigation by detectives over violent sex offences that allegedly occurred in 2013
Ms Berejiklian said she has been made aware of the investigation through media reports on Thursday.
‘I have subsequently received advice from Minister Gareth Ward of his decision to step aside as Minister and sit on the cross bench while there is speculation about his future,’ she said in a statement.
‘I support his decision. The Attorney General will act in Mr Ward’s portfolio responsibilities.’
In a statement, New South Wales Police said: ‘Detectives from the Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad have established Strike Force Condello to investigate allegations of sexual violence-related offences.
‘The incidents were reported to have occurred from 2013. As investigations are continuing, no further information is available.’
Mr Ward, who represents Kiama, south of Sydney, was previously caught up in a ‘secret massage’ extortion incident.
He was staying at the Intercontinental Hotel near Broadway in New York in 2017 when he allegedly called for what he believed was a masseur.
But what was supposed to be a moment of holiday relaxation turned into a ‘terrifying’ blackmail attempt, he said.
‘Look I contacted someone who I thought was a masseur and when he came to my hotel – he brought a friend – it became clear they wanted more. I made it clear that was not what I wanted and asked them to leave,’ he told Daily Mail Australia at the time.
‘They became aggressive and pulled out their phones and began recording and demanding money.’
Mr Ward said he told the men he would get them the money and took the lift to the lobby, where he told the clerk while the pair ‘bolted.’
Attorney General Mark Speakman will take on Mr Ward’s portfolio responsibilities.
It is the second such incident of sexual assault against a NSW MP this year following allegations Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen raped a sex worker in 2019. He has since resigned from parliament.
Mr Johnsen has not been charged by police and denies the allegation, calling it unfair and unfounded.
It comes after federal politics was rocked by a series of sex scandals this year.
Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins claimed she was raped by a colleague in a minister’s Parliament House office in 2019.
And former Attorney-General Christian Porter was accused of raping a woman after a debating competition when he was 17, allegations he strongly denies.
Police decided not to charge him after the alleged victim took her own life last year.
Last month Ms Higgins met Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Sydney to discuss how women’s safety could be improved.
Her ideas included updating rules for Parliament House security to encourage them to block drunk staff from entering the building and call an ambulance if anyone is found unconscious.
She claims she was sexually assaulted after security let her and a colleague into the building after a boozy night out.
Her attacker allegedly raped her on a couch in then-defence minister Linda Reynold’s office before she was found half-naked and unconscious by security hours later.
Ms Higgins has reported her allegations to the Australian Federal Police. No charges have been laid.
Former political staffer Brittany Higgins (centre) alongside boyfriend David Sharaz (right)