The besieged Liberal National MP Andrew Laming operates more than 30 Facebook pages and profiles under the guise of community groups, including at least three masquerading as news pages, and another posing as an educational institute.
The Bowman MP, who is on leave from parliament to undertake empathy counselling following complaints about his behaviour towards women, uses the sites to promote political material and attack his Labor opponents through pages classified with Facebook as “community” and “news” groups. None of the pages include political authorisation disclosures.
Laming has announced he will quit politics at the next election, but the Morrison government has insisted he is a fit and proper person to sit on the government benches, where the Coalition holds a one-seat majority.
As further revelations about his “extraordinary” behaviour emerge, 24newsreads.com Australia has confirmed that the Facebook page operating as the Redland Bay Bulletin – which uses a similar name to the local news site the Redland City Bulletin – was set up by Laming in October 2015 claiming to be a “community group”.
The page claims to “update the issues and keep a close eye on politicians and their promises” in the Redlands area, but posts frequent links to Liberal National party advertising and attacks on the Labor party, including state member Kim Richards.
“This page was created to provide an opportunity for you to communicate your likes and dislikes, advertise an event or your business. So share this page to fellow residents. Let’s see if we are noticed so that positive changes can be made,” the “about” page reads.
After one community resident complained about the page’s apparent LNP “propaganda”, one of the page’s administrators responded: “Yes this page was created by Andrew, but is now administered by several locals from the Redland Bay and Mount Cotton area.”
Another Facebook page used by Laming claims to be the fictitious Redlands Institute, a “forum for balanced discussion of major issues” which has been registered with Facebook as an “education” group.
The Redlands Institute promotes stories casting doubt on climate science, calling it “apocalyptic environmentalism” and spreads anti-Labor and anti-Greens propaganda while linking to Laming’s official material.
Laming revealed his identity in comments on the page posted under the institute’s name, including by posting links to Facebook live events on his now deleted official page and asking page followers to ask him questions.
Laming has also revealed himself in comments on the Victoria Point News page and the Thornlands 4164 page, both of which have been set up as “community” pages.
24newsreads.com Australia understands that Laming has set up a community page for each suburb in his electorate without disclosing his political links to the sites, and operates about 35 from his Facebook account, which have garnered thousands of followers. His official Facebook page was shut down in the wake of allegations that he stalked two Brisbane women online.
Another page called “Redland Hospital: Let’s fight for fair funding,” was set up by Laming ahead of the last federal election to campaign against Labor, and while this is revealed in the page’s “About” information, it does not include any party branding or authorisation.
According to the Australian Electoral Commission, political authorisation is required for “information that is a matter communicated, or intended to be communicated, for the dominant purpose of influencing the way electors vote in a federal election”.
“This includes, but is not limited to, a communication that expressly promotes or opposes a candidate, political party, member or senator.”
The disclosure laws, which were updated following the 2016 election, also explicitly include social media posts, requiring authorisation details either in the message or through the page’s biography details.
The fresh revelations about Laming’s online behaviour come as prime minister Scott Morrison flags a potential crackdown on anonymous social media users, saying that reining in abuse perpetrated online is “a task for this decade”.
“We’ve worked closely with our colleagues internationally on disinformation, for example, which is all perpetrated overwhelmingly through social media, particularly in relation to the pandemic,” Morrison said last week.
“I think the problem with social media is it is much less social good these days and much more social harm.”
Amid concern about the impact of anonymous trolling online, the government is also considering a recommendation from a parliamentary inquiry that would require identity checks before people could set up online social media profiles.
Queensland Labor MPs Kim Richards and Don Brown, who have both been targeted by Laming on the Facebook pages, told 24newsreads.com Australia that Laming was a serial offender online.
“If Scott Morrison is talking about his efforts to clean up social media, then I hope he talks to Andrew Laming, because he is the worst offender in the Redlands area,” Brown said.
Richards, who has accused Laming of ongoing harassment, said Laming needed to reveal – and delete – the Facebook pages he was operating.
“He should fess up, and if the prime minister is saying that social media needs to be used for good not evil, then here is a good place to start.”
Laming declined to comment on the Facebook pages when contacted on Sunday.