The Morrison government will not say whether it was aware of ties between Liberal MP Andrew Laming’s office and a local rugby club before it promised a half-a-million-dollar grant to the club during the 2019 federal election campaign.
- The Southern Bay Cyclones Rugby Union Club won a grant as part of the Female Facilities and Water Safety Stream in 2019
- A staff member in Andrew Laming’s office, Stephanie Eaton, is married to the secretary of that rugby club, James Eaton
- It is not known whether the rugby club has any female teams or female players
The grant to build a new clubhouse for the Southern Bay Cyclones Rugby Union Club in Redland Bay, Queensland, was part of a controversial government program to promote women’s sport known as the Female Facilities and Water Safety Stream.
“When it was announced the alarm bells went off straight away because the club itself didn’t have any female teams. To my knowledge, it still doesn’t,” Don Brown, a Queensland state Labor MP, told 7.30.
The secretary of the rugby club is James Eaton, whose wife Stephanie works in Dr Laming’s electorate office.
There is no mention of women’s teams on the club’s website.
Mr Brown wants to know if Dr Laming’s office declared the relationship with Stephanie Eaton prior to the grant being awarded.
“I suppose other clubs in the area that were after female facilities don’t have that inside running, don’t have that direct contact to Andrew Laming,” Mr Brown said.
Mr Brown used to play for the rival club Redlands Rugby Union, known as the Muddies. He claims they contacted him upset about missing out on funding.
“They were disappointed straight away once they missed out. They’ve got female players, they’ve cultivated female teams, they’ve cultivated two Olympic gold medallists and they’re crying out for these change rooms for their female players,” he said.
7.30 attempted to contact the Eatons but received no response.
7.30 also sent questions to the rugby club about whether they had female teams or any female players but did not receive a response.
7.30 does not suggest the Southern Bay Cyclones Rugby Union Club did not qualify for the grant.
Grants not decided by MPs, says Morrison
The Department of Health oversees the grant, which was approved on December 16, 2019.
Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was asked about the grant to the Southern Bay Cyclones.
He said “those grants aren’t decided by members of Parliament”.
“They are decided by the department. Recommendations are made by members of Parliament and then they are assessed.”
7.30 asked Mr Morrison’s office, the Minister for Sport Richard Colbeck and the Department of Health who the final decision maker was on the grant to the Southern Bay Cyclones, but did not receive an answer.
A spokesperson for Minister Colbeck and Dr Laming’s office provided 7.30 with the same statement, which said:
“The grant to support the Southern Bay Cyclones Junior Rugby Union Club was made during the 2019 federal election campaign as an election commitment alongside 41 other projects across Australia, supporting improved sporting facilities for community based sporting clubs.
“The Labor Party committed to a similar program during the 2019 election campaign, promising more than $250 million for sporting projects.
“All Commonwealth grants are administered consistent with the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 and the Commonwealth Grants Rules and Guidelines 2017 (CGRGs).”
Investigated over use of Facebook
Dr Laming is currently on medical leave and undergoing empathy training after two women claimed he harassed them online.
Another woman alleged Dr Laming took an inappropriate photo of her.
He publicly apologised to the women but disputed the intention of the photo.
Dr Laming had said he would retire from politics at the next election, but yesterday in an apparent about-face he defied the Prime Minister and went ahead with his nomination to stand for the seat of Bowman before a party review committee.
The committee rejected his application, which was accepted by Queensland’s Liberal National Party, but he may receive an allowance of more than $100,000 which is an entitlement paid to retiring MPs who lose their party’s endorsement.
Last week, The Guardian reported claims Dr Laming was behind up to 30 Facebook pages and profiles without declaring he authorised the content.
One page is for a so-called community news site, The Redland Bay Bulletin, which has posted pro-LNP material, including about events with Dr Laming.
Text has now been added to the page saying it has been authorised by Dr Laming.
The Australian Electoral Commission is investigating Dr Laming’s use of Facebook for potential breaches of the Electoral Act.
‘We were concerned’
Suzi Foster is the former secretary of Mr Laming’s local branch of the LNP.
She worked with him for almost five years but claims that prior to the 2019 election she and other insiders became concerned because members were leaving.
“We had a meeting with the people that had left because we, the committee, we were concerned, we wanted to know what was happening,” Ms Foster told 7.30.
“They all said the same thing — it was Andrew’s erratic behaviour, his abusiveness and the fact that he didn’t support their beliefs anymore.”
Ms Foster said she and two others raised concerns about Mr Laming’s behaviour with the LNP, including his Facebook arguments with voters.
The three of them were later suspended from the party over a letter backing a pre-selection challenge to Mr Laming.
She said local branch members have told her they want Mr Laming to serve out his term.
“They want him to stay because they don’t want to lose government,” she said.
“I think accountability is more important than keeping a member there just for the sake of having the government.”
‘He absolutely shocked me’
Tracey Huges is an independent councillor on Redland City Council, which covers much of Mr Laming’s electorate. She is also a member of the Labor Party.
“This is the first time I’ve been able to voice my concern, my disheart, at how our federal member has disrespected my residents,” Ms Huges told 7.30.
In the lead up to last year’s council election, Mr Laming accused Ms Huges in a Facebook post of systematically ripping out opponent’s election signs.
He also emailed residents with the subject line: “Crime alert”.
After she threatened legal action, he posted an apology on Facebook but later told the local newspaper he never regrets his actions.
“He absolutely shocked me. I couldn’t believe when I saw that he had sent an email from his parliamentary [account] to residents,” she said.
“That’s not rough and tumble [of politics] when you’re making those sorts of allegations, off a federal MP’s email address to residents.
“That’s frightening to people and it was not even close to any sort of truth.
“I was pretty angry on behalf of my residents. I just didn’t want them upset.”