Minister’s bizarre ban idea amidst abortion debate
PLANNING Minister Rob Stokes has apologised for interrupting an emotive debate over abortion law and government chaos to suggest staffers be banned from the parliament gym, claiming he was merely trying to "lighten the mood".
MPs were stunned by Mr Stokes' contribution, with one telling The Daily Telegraph it was by far the most trivial matter raised at the meeting.
It can be revealed that Minister Stokes told the first party-room meeting following the Winter break that staffers should be banned from the Parliament House gym at lunchtime, between 12.15 and 1.15pm on sitting days to allow MPs better access.
Deputy Premier John Barilaro was heard to remark "does this place even have a gym?"
One MP said they were unsure if Mr Stokes was joking when he raised the gym access or if he was using it to defuse what had been a bitter showdown over abortion legislation.
Another senior source said Mr Stokes in no way was making light of the abortion debate and never would. They said there were "three or four matters raised" at the meeting in between abortion and the gym access and that is was inaccurate to link the two.
Mr Stokes took to the airwaves this morning to clear up the matter.
"I'm horrified there's a suggestion I was trying to trivialise a debate as serious and emotional as abortion," Mr Stokes told 2GB.
"Obviously, this was a robust meeting and this was a well-intentioned attempt to lighten the mood a bit at the conclusion of the meeting.
"[I] obviously missed the mark and it was misinterpreted and I'm very sorry for any offence caused."
The gym debacle comes at the same time Mr Stokes has been at the heart of a cabinet rift over his department's refusal to support a major $500 million Ritz Carlton tower at Pyrmont.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has returned to chaos on three fronts after flying home from her Armenian holiday.
Firstly, she faced heat in partyroom from PMs furious they were given limited notice about a landmark abortion bill which could hurt their conservative voter base.
Secondly, the government was forced to make the admission last week that Lendlease can't build its much-vaunted Allianz Stadium redevelopment for the price offered.
Thirdly, MPs are split and the government is being attacked by tourism chiefs because Mr Stokes's planning department has refused to support a $500 million Ritz Carlton five-star hotel and apartment development at Pyrmont.
In the first leadership meeting between Ms Berejiklian and her most senior ministers this week, the Ritz Carlton development wasn't even raised as an item.