When embattled MP Michael Johnsen’s marriage broke down shortly following his election to Parliament, his wife of three decades said the ‘culture and lifestyle’ of his new political world was to blame.
She didn’t go into specifics.
Years later, the divorced New South Wales state politician’s career is hanging by a thread, with Johnsen slammed by Premier Gladys Berejiklian and National party leader John Barilaro on Tuesday for his alleged ‘disgusting’ conduct.
Johnsen is facing growing calls to resign after it was revealed a sex worker has gone to police to claim he raped her during a paid hook up in the Blue Mountains in 2019. Johnsen strongly denied the allegation last week.
But as he stood aside from his party and parliamentary role, the same sex worker fuelled the fire engulfing Johnsen’s political life on Tuesday by sharing the texts he sent her with the ABC.
The messages allegedly showed that Johnsen offered her $1,000 for sex in his parliamentary office, sent her an obscene video of a man masturbating to her image and apparently sexted her from the floor of Parliament.
Unusually for a low profile MP such as Johnsen – the now-former parliamentary secretary for agriculture – the saga isn’t the first time his personal life has spilled over into public view.
Michael Johnsen split from his wife Zenda in 2015 shortly following his election to the NSW State Parliament as the member for the Upper Hunter. In an interview years later, she blamed the culture and lifestyle of his political world for their marriage breaking down
Johnsen was first elected to state Parliament in 2015 after a stint as mayor of the Upper Hunter Council. In his maiden speech, he thanked his then wife Zenda Johnsen as ‘my most loyal supporter and best friend.’
Zenda’s support for her husband was clear even then on social media. On election day that year, she boasted of being the first person to vote in the mining town of Muswellbrook.
She also shared a picture of her husband’s billboard going up by the side of a highway. ‘And so it begins,’ she said. But the couple’s marriage of 30 years broke down after he took office.
In February 2018, Zenda raised eyebrows in political circles when she spoke out publicly about the couple’s divorce to a regional newspaper.
His wife Zenda said she will ‘always regret that politics took over our lives’ in an interview with the Newcastle Herald
In a Newcastle Herald piece – which remarked upon the ‘family man’ image Johnsen on the campaign trail- Zenda said she blamed ‘politics, the culture that surrounds it and the lifestyle it entails’ for their marriage breakdown.
Their split was devastating, Zenda said, but she didn’t regret the support they had given one another.
‘Even though the marriage has now ended, I will never regret that support.
‘But I will always regret that politics took over our lives.’
A furious Johnsen later claimed to a local ABC radio station that the article was a ‘political’ hit on him to damage his tilt for a second term.
‘Our marriage break up happened at the end of 2015 and it has been a devastating situation for Zenda, myself and our children and I’ll never walk away from that fact,’ he said, before attacking the journalist who wrote the piece.
Just before the March 2019 state election, Johnsen’s online activity sparked further questions.
Daily Mail Australia revealed he had ‘liked’ a series of sexist and suggestive Facebook pages.
Johnsen’s political Facebook page followed suggestive outlets such as ‘Kinky Humor’ until Daily Mail Australia queried it
His ‘Michael Johnsen MP’ Facebook page was following the Kinky Humour and Uncensored Adults sites which share suggestive material.
Johnsen said at the time that ‘liking’ social media pages did not imply he endorsed their posts.
He ‘unliked’ them after being approached by Daily Mail Australia. ‘Thank you for bringing it to my attention,’ he said.
All of that had sunk into the past before sensational allegations took his career to the precipice this week.
The messages published by the ABC today appeared to show Johnsen commenting upon how he was physically aroused about the sex worker while in the Legislative Assembly.
Text messages allegedly sent by Michael Johnsen to the sex worker that were published by the ABC on Tuesday show him allegedly telling her he was physically aroused sitting in the chamber, after receiving a topless image of the woman
Separate texts allegedly show Johnsen suggesting that the pair have sex in his State Parliament office, the national broadcaster reported
A separate text message allegedly featured a video where a man was seen allegedly masturbating in a toilet
On September 24, the woman reportedly texted him a topless photo. ‘Hmmm … not fair. I’m sitting in the chamber with a h**d on now! Xxx’,’ he reportedly replied.
Parliamentary video seen by Daily Mail Australia shows Johnsen playing with phone on the front bench just three minutes after that text was allegedly received by the woman.
Two days later, on September 26, Johnsen reportedly texted her: ‘I’m in QT (Question Time) and f*** I’m horny and want you so bad – need you.
‘I want you and can’t wait to f*** you over and over again.’
In a separate message, Mr Johnsen apparently suggested that the pair have sex in his parliamentary office, after he sat through a Budget estimates hearing.
‘My PH office could be fun … come to the Jubilee Room and wait for me there,’ he allegedly said.
It is an office he will be lucky to keep. Daily Mail Australia contacted both Mr Johnsen and his ex-wife for comment.
A bombshell ABC report has alleged that Nationals MP Michael Johnsen sent a series of lewd messages to a sex worker from the floor of New South Wales state parliament. He last week denied an allegation he sexually assaulted a sex worker in the Blue Mountains in September 2019
How parliamentary sex scandal came to light
Blue Mountains MP Ms Doyle last week rocked State Parliament by claiming an unnamed male government MP had allegedly raped a sex worker at a secluded bush lookout, after paying her $200 for oral sex.
Ms Doyle recalled how the woman had responded to an advertisement on the website Locanto seeking a specific sex service, and the couple met at Yellow Rock Lookout.
‘She had been clear with her client from the outset about what she was willing to do with him, and what she was unwilling to do,’ Ms Doyle said.
‘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.
Trish Doyle (pictured in parliament last Wednesday afternoon) rocked NSW Parliament by claiming a male government MP allegedly raped a sex worker at a secluded bush lookout after paying her $200 for oral sex
‘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 told Parliament the woman is ‘hurt and angry this powerful man felt entitled to assault her’.
‘She remains fearful that this powerful man will seek reprisals against her for reporting this rape,’ she added.
Johnsen allegedly suggested the pair have sex in his parliamentary office. Above, NSW State Parliament on Macquarie St
Johnsen later outed himself as the man accused in order to firmly deny the allegation.
‘I am devastated by these allegations,’ he said in a statement.
‘I am confident any investigation will conclude that I am an innocent party.
‘Without admission, I have chosen to step aside from my Parliamentary Secretary role, and will 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 public comment.’