The allegations against Peter Dowling, a member of Queensland state's ruling conservative Liberal National Party, emerged after The Courier-Mail newspaper reported on Tuesday that a woman claiming to be the politician's mistress sent a letter detailing their two-and-a-half-year affair to state parliament Speaker Fiona Simpson.
The newspaper said it had seen several explicit text messages between Dowling and the woman, including a picture of a penis resting in a glass of wine. The photo was accompanied by the message, "He wanted a Red Wine..."
On Tuesday morning, Dowling — who, according to his website, has two children with his wife of 27 years — stood before his fellow lawmakers and offered a mea culpa.
"I owe my family an apology. I am sorry for the pain and embarrassment I caused you," Dowling told parliament. "I am not proud of the events plastered all over the paper. I can't and won't defend any part of it."
Dowling is also accused of taking advantage of parliament business trips to meet the woman. Her name was not released and her face was blacked out in published photos of her and Dowling.
Dowling acknowledged he accepted more than 20,000 Australian dollars ($17,800) worth of free flight upgrades. Queensland's parliament exempts travel upgrades from its rules that politicians declare all gifts worth more than AU$500.
Dowling denied he had violated any disclosure rules, but said he was stepping down as ethics committee chairman and from the parliamentary crime and misconduct committee until an investigation by the Clerk of Parliament into his travel is complete. The ethics committee handles complaints about the behaviour of the state's politicians, and the crime and misconduct committee monitors the Crime and Misconduct Commission, an anti-corruption agency.
"In relation to the allegations made to the use of travel allowances, I can assure the House that I have complied fully with all the guidelines and requirements of the parliament," he said in parliament. "However, I do not wish for this issue and for my family to be dragged through the media any longer than necessary. I will answer any questions, front any investigation.
"I don't want pity. I only ask that my family be left alone while this matter is considered by the clerk."
While a revelation of infidelity is not necessarily politically fatal in Australia, it becomes so if it exposes abuse of office or hypocrisy in politicians who campaign on morality or family values. Liberal lawmaker Ross Cameron, once a rising star among conservatives, saw his career implode after he confessed in 2004 to having an affair while his wife was pregnant. Cameron, who used to lead prayer meetings at Parliament House, was seen as a hypocrite for his behaviour and lost his seat at the election later that year.
Dowling may have a particularly tough time finding forgiveness in Queensland, a socially conservative state where traditional, rural values still run deep. Until the late 1980s, Queensland only allowed the sale of Playboy magazines that had been heavily edited to remove photos of exposed female genitalia.
The controversy over Dowling's actions has drawn comparisons to the sexting debacle surrounding New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner. Weiner is facing angry demands that he drop out of the race following an admission that he'd traded sexually graphic messages with women even after resigning from Congress two years ago for doing the same thing.