Senior Labor ministers say remarks from their colleague calling a female senator a "naughty little girl" were unacceptable.
A frustrated Senator Sterle levelled the comment against Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie after a regional inquiry grew rowdy.
"Senator McKenzie, do you always have to have the last word ... like a naughty little girl," Senator Sterle said.
"Can you just be quiet while somebody else finishes?"
Senator Sterle, who chairs the regional and rural affairs committee, withdrew the comment following pressure from the Greens and Nationals after initially refusing.
"I want to apologise for my outburst under pressure, there is no excuse for the language that I used," he told the committee.
"I hope you will accept my apology. That was unlike me, but I'm not dodging it, it was out of order."
Deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley said the comment needed to be called out.
"In the same week Labor used the passing of laws recommended by the Respect at Work report to call for more respect for women, one of their senators called one of my colleagues a naughty little girl," she said.
"Is this the respectful workplace Anthony Albanese promised us?"
"It's unacceptable and needs to be called out."
Women's Minister Katy Gallagher condemned the comments.
"Senator Sterle's comments were unacceptable and he's done the right thing by publicly apologising to Senator McKenzie," she told AAP.
Her cabinet colleague Murray Watt also branded the remark as unacceptable and "extremely unfortunate".
"I don't want to see those kind of remarks made by any senator, no matter what their party is," he told reporters on Tuesday.
"I've spoken with Glenn about it and I know he's remorseful.
"He's made his apology but it's utterly unacceptable for those kinds of remarks to be made in any workplace environment or in society as a whole."