‘Cross your legs’ controversy escalates as Queensland MP demands $5,000 from state’s health minister

<span>Queensland health minister Shannon Fentiman, left, and the opposition’s Ros Bates, who shouted ‘cross your legs’ in parliament as Fentiman was speaking last week.</span><span>Composite: Queensland Parliament | AP via Reuters</span>
Queensland health minister Shannon Fentiman, left, and the opposition’s Ros Bates, who shouted ‘cross your legs’ in parliament as Fentiman was speaking last week.Composite: Queensland Parliament | AP via Reuters

A Queensland MP has raised the prospect of defamation action by sending a concerns notice to the state’s health minister over a social media post she claimed fuelled violent threats against her.

An explosive stoush erupted last week after the shadow health minister, Ros Bates, shouted “cross your legs” while the health minister, Shannon Fentiman, was speaking about maternity services in Queensland parliament.

A clip of the exchange quickly went viral after Fentiman shared it with the incorrect caption “close your legs”. Fentiman deleted the video once the mistake was pointed out and re-uploaded it with the correct caption.

“Whether it’s cross or close your legs, it’s still abhorrent, completely insulting,” Fentiman said in the video. “So if you have liked, commented or shared the video, please do so again.”

Fentiman deleted the post again on Friday after the speaker, Curtis Pitt, asked her to consider removing it while he reviewed the matter.

Bates, a Liberal National party MP, claimed the comment was taken out of context. She said the barb was in response to women being forced to travel long distances to access maternity services.

My interjection was not directed at the health minister. It was a reference to the absurd notion that young mothers were having to hold on whilst in labour until they got to another hospital,” Bates told parliament.

“In the last 24 hours … I have received vile messages and threats of violence on my phone, my email, my social media and to my office. As a childhood victim of domestic and family violence, these threats have been terrifying.”

Bates has requested the minister apologise and has demanded $5,000 to cover the legal costs of the concerns notice, a legal letter formally outlining allegations of defamation.

The premier, Steven Miles, labelled the request “cynical”.

“This shows just how cynical the move from Ros Bates was to demand money from a political opponent for simply broadcasting what she said in parliament,” he said on Sunday.

“This whole thing has gotten bizarre.”

Bates was referred to the parliamentary ethics committee after she refused to withdraw comments about the impact of the posts at the request of the health minister, who said she found the remarks “personally offensive”.

“I’m a victim and I do not withdraw,” Bates responded in parliament last week.

Withdrawing a comment when an MP takes offence is a long-standing practice under parliamentary conventions.

Fentiman said it would be “inappropriate to make any further comment” as the matter had been referred to the ethics committee.

“The record clearly shows that Ros Bates interjected while I was on my feet, yelling ‘cross your legs’. I found this insulting and offensive,” she said in a statement to Guardian Australia on Monday.

“I cannot think of a context in which those words would ever be acceptable.”

Asked about the issue last week, the leader of Katter’s Australian Party, Robbie Katter, said the issue was more important than “bruising egos”.

“People don’t want to hear us squabbling in parliament, they want to hear we’re going to fix problems.”