An Australian radio presenter was sacked today after sparking outrage by pressing embattled Prime Minister Julia Gillard on air whether her hairdresser boyfriend Tim Mathieson is gay.
The startling exchange came with Gillard's Labor Party far behind in the polls ahead of September elections. Personal attacks are mounting against her, including a recent menu item at an opposition party fundraiser that she called "grossly sexist and offensive".
Howard Sattler, known as a shock jock for his blunt style, posed the "gay" question late yesterday after challenging Gillard to answer a series of rumours, myths and innuendos.
He suggested Mathieson, who has been Gillard's partner for seven years and is known in Australia as the "First Bloke", must be homosexual because of his line of work, although he no longer cuts hair for a living.
"Tim's gay. That's not me saying it, that's a myth," he asked her.
"Well, that's absurd," Gillard, who met Mathieson in a Melbourne hairdressing salon before becoming prime minister, responded.
"Yeah, but you hear it, he must be gay, he's a hairdresser," Sattler said.
Gillard, Australia's first women leader, accused Sattler of making generalisations about male hairdressers.
"To all the hairdressers out there, including the men who are listening, I don't think in life one can actually look at a whole profession full of different human beings and say, 'Gee we know something about every one of those human beings'," she said.
"I mean it's absurd, isn't it?"
But Sattler, who works for Fairfax Radio, pressed his case. "You can confirm that he's not?" he asked.
"Oh, Howard, don't be ridiculous, of course not," she shot back.
The Perth radio host refused to drop the matter and continued his line of questioning before Gillard told him to bring himself "back to Earth".
Management at the radio station at first issued a statement saying Sattler had been suspended pending an internal inquiry while apologising to Gillard.
But this afternoon general manager Martin Boylen announced on air he had been fired.
"In the wake of yesterday's interview we suspended Mr Sattler from broadcasting pending a review of the matter today," the broadcaster said on its website.
"The station has now decided to terminate Mr Sattler's engagement."
Reports said Sattler had six months left on a two-year contract and was planning to take legal action over the sacking.