WEST Australian Liberal leader Troy Buswell broke down in tears yesterday after admitting he sniffed the chair of a female staffer after a meeting in his office in late 2005, but he refused to stand down over his extraordinary behaviour.
Mr Buswell agreed that his actions were inappropriate and offensive, but he said he had strong support from his colleagues to remain leader.
He said it was up to voters to decide if he was fit to be premier but he had now modified his behaviour.
Just 24 hours after 13 times labelling the chair sniffing an “unsubstantiated, anonymous rumour” which he would not comment on, Mr Buswell finally admitted he sniffed the woman’s chair seat after she got up so he could get a laugh from other staff.
He was chastised by her at the time and thought the matter was over. The Australian is aware of the woman’s identity but has chosen not to reveal it.
Mr Buswell’s change of heart followed the woman publicly confirming the details.
Yesterday, he apologised unreservedly for any embarrassment or discomfort he caused and said he had taken stock of his actions and changed.
He said the transformation came after another damaging scandal last year when he snapped the bra of a Labor staffer in a drunken escapade at parliament. He has also been accused of making inappropriate comments to female MPs.
“I’ve acknowledged that my behaviour in the past, aspects of my behaviour, may have been unacceptable to people and may have indeed been offensive, even openly offensive,” he said.
“I’ve tried to draw a line in the sand to examine myself, my character and my behaviour. It’s not an easy process but I’m trying to move forward.”
He said he was very aware of the standards required of a party leader.
But when asked how he had explained his behaviour to his wife and teenage sons, Mr Buswell broke down and had to stop the media conference while he regained his composure.
“I’ve spoken to my wife and my boys and it’s a difficult process. It’s hard dealing with these matters and having to face up to your responsibilities behaviourally publicly.
“It’s harder to do it privately.”
Senior Liberals rallied behind their leader yesterday, offering support for the man they elected to the top job just three months ago. But there was also disquiet.
Women’s interests spokeswoman Helen Morton said Mr Buswell was a fantastic family man and a talented leader who had her full support. But she admitted she could not defend his past behaviour.
Party president Barry Court said Mr Buswell had the party’s full support. “There’s no talk at all about any challenge,” he said.
The deeply religious son of former premier Charles Court likened Mr Buswell’s changed character to a “faith conversion”. “Myself and my wife (Victory Life Church pastor and former tennis great Margaret Court) deal with issues like this on a daily basis,” he said.
“It’s not unusual for me to see people change overnight and stay that way.”
Education spokesman Peter Collier said he had absolute faith in his leader. “He has the overwhelming support of his parliamentary colleagues, there’s no doubt about that. Troy is eminently qualified to be the next premier of Western Australia,” he said.