Federal MP Says Running 'No Pill Testing' Facebook Page 'Part Of His Job'
Federal MP Andrew Laming says running a controversial Facebook page is part of his job and that he would have ‘no hesitation’ asking his staff to help manage it.
Laming, a Coalition MP representing the Queensland seat of Bowman, has admitted administering an anonymous page which accuses pill testing experts of a "bullshit" argument.
"Every major party in every Australian State opposes pill testing. Yeah, they must all be noobs, driven by ideology and a hatred of young people," reads one sarcastic post on the page.
The page, titled No Pill Testing Australia, has incensed medical professionals pushing for governments and music festivals to consider the harm reduction measure.
Featuring a doctored version of the Pill Testing Australia logo, the page claims that the group's approach -- backed by more than a dozen peak medical bodies including the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners -- is "a crappy machine giving shit information".
Pill testing advocates have accused Laming of "shabby" conduct after he was revealed as the page creator.
The page has been posting since late September, and at one point listed its contact as Laming's electoral office - the number was removed earlier this week.
When contacted, Laming told 10 daily he was "100 percent" happy to admit that he was running the page.
Laming said he set up the page because of "a lack of debate on the Pill Testing Australia (Facebook) page", adding he actually supported pill testing -- just in a different format.
"It's not: 'No Pill Testing In Australia', it's saying no TO Pill Testing Australia. I oppose the way they do pill testing," Laming said.
One of Australia's chief proponents of pill testing, Dr David Caldicott, hit back saying Laming's approach was 'daft'.
"The clever term ‘astroturfing’ refers to the creation of false grassroots campaigns to influence public narrative," Caldicott said.
Caldicott said Laming attended a demonstration of the Fourier Transform infrared spectrophotometer (FTIR) machine, which was used at recent pill testing trials at music festivals such as Groovin' The Moo in Canberra.
Laming's page scorns the machine, mocking FTIR as standing for "F@#$ Toss It In Recycling".
The MP is an avid Facebook user, and last year reignited a two-year running feud with a Simpsons meme page after it made jokes about the Coalition government.
"This is a health issue. We should be having civilised conversations rather than playing underhand politics," Caldicott told 10 daily.
Laming said his approach would involve testing drugs with different technology, used at hospitals instead of festivals.
"The festival should be a drug-free area," Laming said.
The Laming-run Facebook page does not carry authorisations of the type which traditionally appear on political posters, TV ads or official social media pages of parties.
Laming defended this, saying: "I don't have to" because his government is not in campaign mode.
The Australian Electoral Commission told 10 daily that political authorisation was only an issue during "a current or foreshadowed federal election".
Laming's own personal Facebook page, which does carry political authorisation, has promoted links to the No Pill Testing Australia page without disclosing that he was behind it.
Similarly, the NPTA page has shared at least one post from Laming himself, again without disclosing the link between the two.
When asked if he used staff resources -- such as his office staff -- to run the page, Laming said that would be allowed, and that running such a "discussion platform" fell within his duties as an MP.
"This is part of my job. It's not a diversion," he said, adding he wanted to push the federal government to act on pill testing in future.
Currently, pill testing is treated as a state government responsibility, which would not fall to Laming in his role as a federal MP.
"I'll be running policy discussions ... the federal government has to have a view on it," he said.
"This is how social media works. MPs will be running these sort of third-party pages."
Laming said he "would be happy" to have his staff help operate the page, but thus far, it was he alone running it.
Caldicott invited Laming to a public conversation on their dispute.
"We'd be delighted to discuss these issues in public, at any time, in a venue of someone's choice. But this page is not the way to do healthcare or science. This is just politics," he said.