Labor Members of Parliament

29 Nov 2017 newsspeechparliament

Rise to make remarks on this motion.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I rise to put some remarks on the record in relation to this motion. There are some behaviours which have been taking place which need to be highlighted and placed on the parliamentary record. Over many years, the member for Croydon, currently the Speaker in the House of Assembly, has taken great delight in taunting people whose views he disagrees with.

The nature of these exchanges I would describe as follows. He always pretends that he is acting in the best interests of his electorate or particular aggrieved people. He frequently accuses those he disagrees with of being motivated by disregard for his electorate or a particular group of people. For those who engage in debate with him, he does his best to use their words against them and does not let the truth get in the way of his story and always has to have the last word. He often also resorts to the threat of legal action as a final way of silencing others, and I think this has been particularly effective with the media.

As my friend and former colleague the Hon. Robert Lawson used to say, the member for Croydon has spent more time in a courtroom representing himself than he ever did representing clients. There is also a disturbing targeting by the member of women. These have included female elected members of the previous City of Charles Sturt, including former mayor Kirsten Alexander, the current member for Adelaide, Ms Rachel Sanderson, and most recently, my Legislative Council colleague, Tammy Franks, and me among others.

I would also like to raise the matter of a Liberal staffer who works for the member for MacKillop, Ms Kristie McTernan, who was a candidate for the seat of MacKillop recently. She was subject to a tweet from him. After she had been unsuccessful, he said the following on Twitter: 'Candidate for MacKillop Lib pre-selection living in Brompton returns to Croydon roll after sojourning in South-East. Reunited with partner.' Kristie says it (those comments) 'made me uncomfortable. Mr Atkinson's tweet was factually incorrect and creepy. How did he know I had moved back to that address? If it was from access to the electoral roll through his position as a member of parliament, I think it is totally inappropriate for him to be tweeting that sort of information.' I agree. I would add that there is a subtext that he is basically saying, I know where you live and what your electoral roll activity is.

The bill which has been before the parliament to amend our sex work laws has provided a particular opportunity to the member to engage in his preferred sport. After the Legislative Council select committee recommended the bill unamended, then it was passed by a clear majority in this place in July, he decided to stir up his own constituency. Despite the bill having been a matter before the House of Assembly since May 2014, tabled in the Legislative Council in July 2015 and then subject to a select committee for nearly two years, it took until July of this year for him to letterbox a number of suburbs in his electorate about the bill.

My colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks and I received an email from his office on 11 July asking us to check the contents of a document that he was about to letterbox. We were given an hour's notice to provide corrections. I responded with six points, and given the hour, I will not read them all. My final sentence was, 'I trust that you will correct these inaccuracies in the interests of not misleading our constituents.' I then got a response —I will not go through the entire contents—but he has basically accused me of being the author of the select committee report, which is not true, and a range of other things. He said:

Your request that you and Mr Darley be given no more prominence in the letter than the 11 others who voted for your Bill reveals an uncharacteristically shy and modest side to you. In any event, I draw your attention to the sentence in the letter that reads: Some Liberal MPs and some Labor MPs, I am ashamed to say, voted for this. This addresses your objection. I will have more to say about the 11 others in due course and in a relevant context.

Which I suspect has not happened. But I note that the Hon. Mr Darley, the Hon. Ms Franks and I have featured by name many times prominently in his missives to his electorate and great omissions of other members who both supported the bill and had supported the contents of the select committee report in full. The member then demanded a few days later on 14 July that a number of MLCs attend street corner meetings organised by him in his electorate. My response to him was as follows:

Thank you for your letter.

It is generally not the practice of Members of Parliament to attend other political parties' street corner meetings.

In any case, I am already in contact with a number of our constituents in those particular suburbs.

This was the response I then received from the member:

In the interests of reasonable publication, I give notice that I will be issuing flyers and a D.L. with these remarks of and concerning you. This gives you an opportunity to comment on the remarks before they are letterboxed:

The mover of the proposed law to legalise street prostitution is the deputy leader of the Liberal Party in the Legislative Council, Michelle Lensink, of Bridgewater. Michelle Lensink refuses to attend any of these public meetings in the affected area and she told me in writing:

'I (Michelle Lensink) am in contact with a number of constituents in those particular suburbs. (Athol Park, Mansfield Park, Woodville Gardens & Woodville North)'

Has Liberal Party deputy leader Michelle Lensink been in touch with you in the past 14 years that she has been a Member of Parliament about her proposal to legalise street prostitution or any other matter?

I then replied:

Once again, your communications are inaccurate, misleading and mischievous.

My preference is that you publish my previous response to you in full.

You may also wish to explain to our constituents why you failed to advise them of the proceedings of the select committee over the last two years so that they could make representations about their particular concerns with the Bill which is now before the House of Assembly.

I note that you made no representations to the select committee either.

What the member has attempted to do is say to his constituents that it is, in effect, my job to communicate with all of them. We did get a couple of people phone my office. I also had other people who contacted me to say that they were very upset about his implication that I had not been in touch with them. He replied to the email, of course, asking me to outline where he had been dishonest, but also ignored the issue of his own failure to engage his constituents until very recently after the select committee had wrapped up and that matter had been voted on in the Legislative Council.

I took the view that this exchange of emails was all part of a game that I would not participate in. My office receives calls from people every day who need help with very serious problems and we have made them our priority. As I said, we did receive communications from people in the member's electorate who have been given incorrect information and also from several who expressed their anger and dismay at the local member's inaccurate statements. The Premier knew about the communications between the member for Croydon and myself. I have never heard from him about these matters.

We then come to the recent issue, which made it into the media last week. The original tweet from the Sex Industry Network was on 11 November. I never saw it because I have over 1,700 accounts that I follow and I am not the sort of person who spends a lot of time trawling through the feeds. The member replied to the tweet and tagged in the Hon. Ms Franks and myself. Because we had been tagged, it then became something that we were notified of. I found his actions offensive on several levels. Firstly, there is the image itself. Members of parliament should not be sending images like this for any reason in 2017; it is not acceptable for members of parliament and not for senior office bearers of parliament.

Secondly, in typical belligerent style, the implication of the member is that Ms Franks and I are somehow responsible for the Sex Industry Network's communications and that we are therefore seeking to mock people of strong religious convictions. This is also not correct. On Sunday 19 November, the Hon. Ms Franks sent a tweet to the member asking him to take responsibility for his behaviour. I also sent a similar tweet to the Premier and the Labor Party to take responsibility for his behaviour. The member printed an apology

—I use that word advisedly—on Facebook, which is really just a self-justifying rant, which continues to peddle things that are not true. He says that:

Tammy Franks & Michelle Lensink have long been advocates for the Sex Industry Network (SIN) in Parliament.

We are not advocates for the Sex Industry Network: we are advocates for a model of legislation. He says:

They brought in a Committee Report…

Well, the committee brought in a committee report. Again, he has targeted two people who coincidentally (not) are the two women who served on the committee. He continues:

They brought in a Committee Report and legislation that fully adopted the SIN position on reforming the law on sex-work in SA and they have a close and mutually supportive relationship with SIN.

Which is also not true.

MPs who support the Lensink bill retweet SIN tweets with approval (but not this one).

I do not think I have ever retweeted any of their tweets, but I stand to be corrected on that. He goes on:

Although I too want change in our sex-work law, I think the decriminalisation of street sex work without restrictions goes too far. SIN regards me as an adversary.

He then goes on to describe what he did, saying that SIN has been mocking traditional Christianity. He says:

I received this tweet from SIN and it appears in our twitter feed —

and repeats his comments. He has just really justified his position, although he makes some reference to an apology towards the end of that post.

I think in some ways I am quite used to this behaviour from the member for Croydon, although he certainly crossed the line on this occasion, for which I was offended, but what I found equally disturbing is that the Premier has not actually spoken to him, as far as I can tell. He had not spoken to him on Sunday when this news broke out. He said he hoped that he would put his phone away and understood that he had apologised. It is hard to understand whether he had actually read that particular apology to make a judgement for himself, but obviously as Premier it is his job to monitor the behaviour of his members.

On Monday 20 November, when the Hon. Ms Franks and I had called for the resignation of the Speaker, his comments were that he would not resign, as he had not done anything wrong. As reported in The Advertiser the next day he says:

When I say I've done nothing wrong, I mean that in the very objective way that blokes think.

It is very hard to not see that as another slur towards all women. I was quite heartily sick of all this gutlessness from the Premier by this stage and sent a tweet on Monday night, because it had been reported that an apology had been made, which I did not read as an apology at all, particular not in combination with the member's comments. Then we finally received some form of apology on Monday night.

I point out that in any other workplace this sort of behaviour would result in a reprimand. It was good enough for the Premier to intervene when the Treasurer used foul language to Renewal SA employees, which he described as 'conversational swearing', yet when female colleagues have been attacked by him, he has done absolutely nothing. I am not quite sure who has authority to bring this person into line if the Premier and the Labor Party will not do so.

I used the word 'bystander' in my tweet on Sunday, because this is a very important context. White Ribbon has advice to men that includes the following:

Holding other men accountable to women

A critical step towards accountability is for men to hold other men accountable to women rather than relying on women to call men out when they are being sexist.

It also says in relation to men who are in positions of power:

Men with influence and privilege can be powerful advocates for the prevention of violence against women. Senior male leaders can be effective champions for violence prevention in their organisations, using their personal influence.

I feel very let down by the senior members of the Labor Party on this matter. It is hard to see that if this had been a Liberal or a member of any other party that there would not be a full hue and cry coming from the Premier in particular, but I think he has been gutless on this occasion. I am very disappointed. I think the member for Croydon is not fit to be Speaker and he should have faced some form of reprimand other than the Premier saying that he was hopeful that the member would put his phone away.