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Andrew Laming investigation: electoral commission wants information from Facebook

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Sarah Martin
·3-min read
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<span>Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP</span>
Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

The Australian Electoral Commission has asked Facebook to provide information about dozens of pages operated by Andrew Laming, as Labor calls for the government to cut ties with the besieged MP.

Guardian Australia understands the AEC’s legal services team made contact with Facebook on Thursday morning as it began its investigation into a slew of pages operated by Laming under the guise of community and news groups without political disclosures.

Laming faces a potential fine of up to $26,000 for each breach of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, but the AEC has not penalised anyone for non-compliance since legislation was beefed up after the 2016 election.

Following reports in Guardian Australia that a $550,000 government grant was awarded by Laming to a rugby club in his electorate that had links with one of his electoral staffers, Labor has also stepped up calls for Scott Morrison to take action against the Queensland MP.

Related: Andrew Laming: Simpsons memes, 'extraordinary behaviour' and the end of an MP's career

The grant, which came from a pool of funding aimed at female participation, went to the Southern Cyclones rugby club, which does not field a women’s team.

The club’s secretary, James Eaton, is married to Laming’s electorate officer Stephanie Eaton.

The Labor frontbencher Kristina Keneally said Laming’s behaviour reported over the past weeks, which includes the alleged online stalking of two Brisbane women, had no place in Parliament and the prime minister needed to act.

“Take action today and make clear that Andrew Laming has no place in the Liberal party, quite frankly, he should have no place in our parliament,” Keneally said.

Laming, who is on extended leave for clinical and empathy counselling, has said he will not contest the next election, but remains on the government benches, where the Coalition holds a one-seat majority.

The government has insisted he remains a fit and proper person to sit in parliament and in the Coalition partyroom, despite the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, labelling his behaviour “unacceptable” and the social services minister, Anne Ruston, calling his online conduct “abhorrent”.

On Thursday Morrison defended the $550,000 grant, saying the grants were “not decided by members of parliament.”

“They are decided by the department, recommendations are made by members of parliament, and then they are assessed and considered to be whether they’re compliant with rules and then the decision is taken at that level.”

Related: Barnaby Joyce says you can’t ‘redesign people’s brains’ with empathy training

He said he expected recommendations made by the AEC to be “fully complied with”.

However, the Department of Health has previously confirmed that the government decided which programs to fund under the $150m Female Facilities and Water Safety Stream Program as election commitments, with the department merely signing off on the chosen projects.

The fund was not open for applications, and there was no merit assessment process undertaken by the department.

The Liberal MP Jason Falinski said Laming’s fate could only be decided by the “sovereignty of the people”.

“I’m in favour of the Australian people continuing to empower the parliament not to remove that power from their hands. We are ultimately employed by the people of Australia … and they will render their judgment upon us.

“The fact of the matter is anyone who tries to get rid of a member of parliament through any other way is removing that power from the hands of the Australian people and giving it to themselves. And we should be very cautious about doing that.”