Liberal MP Andrew Laming to be brought to justice by the Election Commission on his Facebook page | André Laming
The Australian Election Commission launched legal action against Liberal MP Andrew Laming for allegedly failing to disclose his political links on a Facebook page that appeared to be operating under the guise of a grassroots community group.
The proceedings in federal court come after Guardian Australia revealed in April that the Queensland MP manages 35 Facebook groups – with at least one for each suburb in his electorate.
The ACS is launching an action based on just one of 35 sites, called “Redland Hospital: Fight for Fair Funding”, set up by Laming ahead of the last federal election to campaign against Labor.
This is the first time that the AEC’s permission requirements for social media will be tested in court after the disclosure laws were updated following the 2016 election to explicitly include media posts. social.
According to the ACS website, the penalty for a violation by an individual can be a fine of up to $ 26,640.
In a statement, the ACS said it initiated federal legal proceedings against Laming “alleging that he did not allow Facebook posts prior to the 2019 federal election.”
“The ACS alleges that Dr Laming posted an unauthorized election question in the form of a Facebook page, ‘Redland Hospital: Lets fight for fair financing’ and that this contravened the Commonwealth Election Act 1918 the requirement that material promoting one candidate or political party over another comply with the licensing requirements of the Act. “
“The ACS will not make any further comment as this matter is now before the Court.”
According to the Australian Election Commission, political authorization is required for “information that is communicated, or intended to be communicated, for the dominant purpose of influencing the way voters vote in a federal election”.
“This includes, but is not limited to, communication that expressly promotes or opposes a candidate, political party, member or senator. “
Laming, who holds Bowman’s Bayside seat, will not run in the next election after a series of controversies earlier in the year that saw him lose the preselection in April.
In October, Laming withdrew his apologies to two women in Brisbane for online comments he had previously admitted causing “significant distress”, saying he did not believe the women were really upset.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison ordered him to take empathy training in March before returning from personal leave, attributing his behavior to a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
While some MPs within the Coalition want tougher action taken against Laming over complaints about his behavior and Facebook pages, Morrison defended the outgoing MP.
In May, Morrison said Laming had “formed an opinion since [March] that the issues that were the subject of complaints against him have now changed and new facts have emerged ”.
Morrison pointed to the “many good things” that Laming had done as a member of the government, saying he “[expects] him to continue to work hard for his electorate until the next elections ”.
Laming said in a statement, “I respect the decision of the ACS and will help them resolve the matter through conciliation.”
Laming said he was being investigated for five posts that “make up only 2% of the page posts, with an average reach of six people.”
“The entire page is less than 1% of the reach of my AEC-cleared pages,” he said.
The statement said he “has always recognized that he has several community Facebook pages in order to better tailor information relevant to those communities.”
“These community pages were fully operational when the social media permission requirements were tightened. My office was convinced at the time that we were complying by avoiding federal electoral matters.
“Where there was perceived doubt at the time, individual posts on this page were properly authorized. I do not dispute the AEC’s view that the page did promote me and criticize another political party, and for these reasons the authorization of the page should have taken place and I apologize for that.