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Tweet-storm: Weatherill tells Speaker to put a sock in it

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State speaker Michael Atkinson is considering retiring from social media after Premier Jay Weatherill today publicly directed him to “put his phone away and stopped tweeting”, in the wake of a weekend fracas over an allegedly lewd message that has ignited a storm over parliamentary conduct.

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Atkinson was taken to task on Twitter yesterday for a tweet he posted earlier this month, wherein he took issue with a post by the Sex Industry Network that portrayed festive Christmas decorations designed to resemble female genitalia.

While the tweet itself appeared more puritanical than lewd, the fact he tagged two female MLCs – Green Tammy Franks and Liberal Michelle Lensink – in his missive provoked a stinging response yesterday, when he began a separate social media altercation with Franks.

The Greens MLC says the interaction is symptomatic of a “pattern” of “bullying” behaviour directed by the Speaker, often towards female MPs.

He denies this, insisting he tagged the two women in his original retort because he is in the midst of an ongoing stoush with them – and the Sex Industry Network – over key aspects of Lensink’s bill to decriminalise sex work.

Atkinson, a prolific and frequently contrarian Tweeter, posted a lengthy apology to his Facebook page last night, and deleted his original tweet, but the issue exploded again on morning radio today, when Franks raised the suggestion that Labor MPs had consistently gone unpunished in Question Time for raising sexual innuendos about her and an alleged relationship with Liberal leader Steven Marshall, which they both deny.

Atkinson, she said, “seems to cross the line on a regular basis”.

“This is the man who presides over a Chamber, who sets the standard, who behaves as a Twitter troll … his behaviour is not befitting of a Speaker,” she told ABC Radio Adelaide.

“In Question Time there’s been sexual slurs against me time and time again… and I’ve had a gutful.”

Atkinson said he was not aware of the innuendo before today.

But he was given a firm – and public – directive by Weatherill, who told reporters this morning that while the Speaker retained his full support, he should rein in the tweets.

“If he’s listening, I’d love it if he, sort of, you know, basically put his phone away and stopped tweeting,” said Weatherill.

“I think that would be a wonderful thing.”

He added: “I wouldn’t like to compare him with Donald Trump but I would like him to tweet less often.”

“He’s always engaged in these Twitter wars with various parliamentary colleagues.”

Asked whether Atkinson’s tweet constituted sexist harassment, Weatherill said: “The two MPs in question felt that it was, and I think that was enough.”

“I think it’s enough that that’s how they felt about it and I think that’s what Michael believed, and so, therefore, he apologised relatively quickly as I understand it.

“I don’t think we need to get into the objective assessment of this matter – I think it’s enough that MPs felt offended by it, and in those circumstances, it’s proper that the MP that caused the offence should make an apology.”

 

Weatherill added that he had always conducted himself respectfully towards his parliamentary colleagues, including female MPs, and he expected the same from Labor members.

Addressing Franks’ claim Labor MPs had been spreading false rumours, Weatherill said: “I think the source of any rumours is not from the Labor Party.”

Atkinson told InDaily he had taken the Premier’s response on board, although he has not heard from him directly.

“That’s fair enough – if he requests it, I’m willing to do it,” he said of the suggestion he should abandon the social medium.

“I hope I’ve been of service while I’ve been on it.”

He said his regular running battles with the likes of Franks, Lensink, Nick Xenophon and The Advertiser newspaper had “one thing in common”.

“They don’t expect to be criticised,” he said.

Of the newspaper, he noted: “No-one takes them on because in the end, they’re going to crush anyone who criticises them.”

Of the Greens and Xenophon, he said their role as (prospectively) holding the balance of power meant “Liberal and Labor compete with one another to fawn on them”.

“I’ve made a point of being critical of them, and they want that to stop – in the interests of my party, I shall comply.

“I like having public debates – that’s why I’m in the vocation I’m in.”

He said his intent with the ‘genitalia’ reply was to call out the Sex Industry Network’s hypocrisy in “mocking” Christianity, but not other religions.

The ‘offensive’ tweet that started it all.

“As a very poor Christian, I absolutely accept with equanimity that within our society Christians and Christmas are going to be mocked, and all the time we just accept it,” he said.

Weatherill came to power pledging a higher standard of parliamentary discourse, but Atkinson insists he is not carrying the can for the failure of that ambition.

“I think I have a good record on civility in parliament,” he said, pointing to the new public broadcasting system as a measure that has improved behaviour.

“I’ve kicked out Government ministers for incivility… I’m supposed to be discriminating in a sexist way against the Member for Adelaide [but] I’ve thrown my own partner out more than I’ve thrown Rachel Sanderson out.”

But he conceded it was “not appropriate for the Premier to have to carry the can for me”.

“If my critics say I’m too combative, that’s fair criticism… I’ll reflect on it in the next few days.”

Just moments later, however, he published a new tweet that poured further fuel on the fire.

Lensink told media today “the Speaker should resign or be sacked”.

“Mr Atkinson has crossed a line, he needs to take full responsibility for that,” she said.

“If this was a candidate, they would have been sacked straight away.”

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