A senior Australian lawmaker apologized Wednesday for saying a female politician did not deserve a leadership role because she had decided against having children.

Bill Heffernan, a close friend of Prime Minister John Howard, had described Julia Gillard, the deputy leader of the opposition Labor Party, as "deliberately barren."

"If you're a leader, you've got to understand your community," Heffernan, a 64-year-old senator in the ruling Liberal Party, told The Bulletin magazine in its Wednesday edition.

"One of the great understandings in a community is family and the relationship between mum, dad and a bucket of nappies," he added, using the Australian term for diapers.

His comments touched off demands for an apology from Labor lawmakers, and condemnation from some government leaders.

Howard initially rejected the Labor calls for an apology, but later told reporters he would discuss the matter with Heffernan, a blunt-talking wheat farmer often seen as the prime minister's messenger.

Heffernan later issued a brief statement.

"I apologize to Julia Gillard and anyone else who was offended by my completely inappropriate and insensitive remarks," he said.

Howard said it doesn't matter whether a politician is a parent or not.

"I don't approve of those sort of remarks and I made that very clear," the conservative leader told reporters.

Gillard, who has said she might have became a mother if she had fallen in love with a man who wanted children, dismissed Heffernan as old-fashioned and has not asked for an apology.

"The reality is that modern women know all about modern women's choices. Mr. Heffernan is a man stuck in the past," the unmarried 45-year-old told reporters.

Gwen Gray, an Australian National University expert on women's issues and politics, pointed to a double standard.

"I don't want to be sexist, but I've heard stories about many men up there in Parliament House who'd hardly know they had children because they spend so little time with them," Gray said.

"So is there a difference between having children and spending almost no time with them and deciding not to have children in the first place?" she asked.