A Twitter post by Labour MP Deborah Russell expressing frustration after a submission on a law change to allow sex self-ID has been described as "disgraceful" by ACT leader David Seymour.
But Russell told Newshub the tweet was a reaction to being disappointed at being accused of not listening to a submitter on a Zoom call, when she was just standing up to stretch her back after sitting for a long time.
Parliament's Governance and Administration Committee has been hearing submissions from the public over the past few weeks on the Government's proposed Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill (BDMRR Bill).
Under the proposed law, people would be allowed to change the sex on their birth certificate based on how they identify themselves, removing the need for medical evidence of a sex change.
At present, anyone wanting to change the sex on their birth certificate needs "medical evidence" and to apply through the Family Court. Changing that to a simple statutory declaration - the current process for changing it on a driver's licence or passport - is on the cards.
A submitter called Rex Landy spoke out strongly against the legislation during a Zoom meeting this week, describing transgender people as having a "mental illness" and that "men in dresses are not women, they can never be women".
Russell, who has disputed these kinds of views before as anti-trans and discriminatory, disappeared from the Zoom call, prompting Landy to say: "Oh, I see Deborah Russell's just done the adult equivalent of going 'la la la la la' I can't hear you."
Russell could be heard saying: "I'm just standing up to stretch."
The group Women's Voices, which is against the law change, tweeted footage of the moment Russell disappeared from the screen, with the caption: "Rex Landy did not mince her words in her submission. [Deborah Russell] responded by turning off her camera."
Russell later expressed her frustration in a tweet, saying: "If I tweet something along the lines of, "Oh, do f*ck off, would all my lovely friends understand why?"
She followed it up with another tweet: "I've been listening to gender self id submissions for a few days now..."
Seymour says it was inappropriate.
"Deborah Russell is paid a large salary to serve people in Parliament to go to select committees and listen to people's views. Telling somebody to F off I don't think is appropriate," he told reporters on Thursday.
Russell told Newshub the tweet was written in frustration.
"It's a tweet, and as such, it's very informal. The tweet was in response to the frustration I felt with one series of tweets from another person claiming that I had refused to listen because I turned my video off during one submission.
"I explained at the time it was because I was standing up to stretch because I have problems with my back. This explanation can clearly be heard on the video, but the tweeter persisted in claiming it was because I was being rude. I have tried to listen politely to every submission, even when I disagree with the claims the submitters are making."
Seymour said Russell's behaviour wasn't acceptable. Last week she clashed with Speak Up For Women, a group formed in 2018 in opposition to the sex self-identification proposals, who fear it would erode the rights of women to access single-sex services.
"I know the Speak Up For Women people. They have a different view from my own, but I don't think they deserve to be treated that way," Seymour said.
"I think the behaviour of the people like Deborah Russell and other Labour MPs on that committee is frankly disgraceful."
He's opposed to the law change.
"We've said that we're going to oppose it. We're very sensitive towards matters of gender identity. People should be able to identify the way that they feel and prefer.
"But the idea that we need to make that a simple box ticking exercise we think is wrong. We think that the current arrangement of going through the Family Court is the right way to resolve a serious matter."
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said he hadn't seen Russell's tweet, so "it's not something I've got any comment to make on".
Internal Affairs Minister Jan Tinetti, who oversaw the legislation, said every submitter should be heard and treated fairly.
"I hope people are treated with respect when they are at select committee. That is my wish and I just hope that going forward, that's what happens," she told Newshub.
"My expectations are that all people are treated with respect when they come into select committee. That's the idea around select committee, that they're treated with respect, and I have expressed that to my team, although I haven't spoken to the select committee direct because it's independent of the minister at that stage."