The Nationals have suspended Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen's party membership over allegations he raped a woman at a secluded lookout in the Blue Mountains.
"In light of the police investigation and allegations against member for Upper Hunter, NSW Nationals have suspended the membership of Michael Johnsen effective immediately, pending the NSW Police investigation," the party's state chairman, Andrew Fraser, told the Newcastle Herald on Thursday.
The move will force Mr Johnsen to sit as an independent in state Parliament.
Mr Johnsen, the Parliamentary secretary for Agriculture, resigned as a government MP overnight after outing himself as the subject of a rape allegation raised in Parliament on Wednesday.
He denied the allegations and said he was confident an investigation would find he was innocent.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Thursday morning that she was "absolutely shocked" to learn that a member of her government had been the subject of a six-month police investigation.
Both Ms Berejiklian and Nationals leader John Barilaro said they had been unaware of the allegations until Labor MP Trish Doyle raised them in Parliament on Wednesday.
"I think all of us want to make sure that justice is served well and properly, and the alleged victim needs to be able to have a process where nothing is prejudiced," Ms Berejiklian said.
Port Stephens Labor MP Kate Washington questioned how Ms Berejiklian could be unaware of the investigation.
"The people of the Upper Hunter will be disgusted by these distressing allegations," she said in a statement to the Newcastle Herald.
"How could the Premier not know that her parliamentary secretary has been under investigation for rape by the Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad since September last year?
"Now Michael Johnsen is taking taxpayer-funded leave to defend these allegations, but the woman who has made this report won't be given the same privilege."
Mr Barilaro announced on Thursday morning that he had sought and received Mr Johnsen's resignation.
Mr Johnsen joins Liberal MP John Sidoti on the crossbench after the former Sports Minister stepped down this month when ICAC announced it would investigate his property dealings.
Mr Johnsen's resignation and subsequent party suspension means the Coalition government has lost its one-seat majority in the lower house.
The Coalition now holds 46 of the 93 seats in the Legislative Assembly.
Mr Johnsen released a statement on Wednesday evening saying he was "devastated" by the allegation that he raped a sex worker in the Blue Mountains while he was on his way home from Sydney.
"I have voluntarily spoken with NSW Police and I have and will continue to fully cooperate with their inquiries," he said in a written statement.
"I am confident that any investigation will conclude that I am an innocent party."
The Nationals MP said that, "without admission", he was stepping aside from his parliamentary secretary role and would not sit in the Nationals party room nor the joint party room.
"I will be taking leave effective immediately for a short duration.
"As the matter is with the NSW Police I will make no further comment."
The party has now banned him from re-entering the party room at least until the legal process concludes.
Ms Doyle told Parliament on Wednesday afternoon that a government MP had allegedly raped a woman who had agreed to meet him for oral sex but not penetrative sex.
The woman had been reluctant to go to the police but had since reported the matter.
Ms Doyle, who did not name Mr Johnsen, said she had been contacted about the alleged sexual assault 18 months ago.
NSW Police have confirmed that detectives from the Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad are examining allegations of sexual violence against a woman in the Blue Mountains in September 2019.
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"The matter was reported and referred to the squad in late September 2020 and has been under investigation since," police said.
Ms Doyle, the MP for Blue Mountains, said the woman had told her that she had made contact with a male client via the adult classified website Locanto.
The man was offering $200 for "oral sex only", Ms Doyle told Parliament.
"She tells me she made herself clear that she was not willing to have penetrative sex with him, however, towards the end the man moved around behind her and assaulted her in a way she had not consented to," Ms Doyle said.
"In her emails to me she said that once the assault began she just wanted it to finish.
"It was an assault, and it was against her explicit instructions. She did not consent. It was rape."
Ms Doyle said the woman remained "fearful that this powerful man will seek reprisals against her for reporting this rape".
Before the alleged incident the woman had "messaged back and forth" with the man, who had told her about "his important job and his significant workload".
Mr Barilaro told 2GB on Thursday morning that he had heard a rumour on Wednesday evening and rung Mr Johnsen to "ask him directly" if it was true.
"I had a conversation with the Premier. I also had a conversation with my leadership team," Mr Barilaro said.
"I don't think I could have done anything sooner.
"He [Johnsen] accepted that course of action, issued that statement, agreed to that course of action.
"He has chosen to take some time off. That is the best outcome personally.
"None of us want to be involved or giving prejudice in this case. We need justice to run its course."
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