Besieged Liberal National MP Andrew Laming awarded two grants to community organisations run by an LNP branch president and administered by his own electorate officer, while the organisations used their platforms to promote the LNP.
Laming is also listed as a patron of one of the organisations – Community Connections Redlands Coast – which received a $10,000 grant for the purchase of AV equipment through the Stronger Communities grant program.
Another grant for $11,500 was awarded to the Redlands Coast Salad Bowl for the establishment of community gardens.
Both organisations were co-founded by the president of the Liberal National party’s Redlands branch, Craig Luxton. The secretary of both of the organisations is Laming’s own electorate officer, Stephanie Eaton.
Guardian Australia has previously reported that Laming awarded a $550,000 grant to a rugby club with links to Eaton under the government’s female facilities and water infrastructure scheme – a $150m grant program that was allocated during the election campaign.
According to information obtained from the Queensland Office of Fair Trading, the two organisations were both officially registered in August 2018 and they received the grants just four months later in the run up to the 2019 federal election.
The Community Connections Facebook page includes multiple posts in support of Laming, and photos on the page show that Laming and other LNP politicians, including former LNP candidate Julie Talty and LNP Redlands candidate Henry Pike, spoke at movie night events.
One Community Connections post includes a promotional flyer outlining Laming’s commitments in the electorate, while another urges people to “PLEASE support those that support the community” accompanying a picture of Laming along with certain local councillors and businesses. The page also praises the “massive financial boost” from the Bowman MP as a result of the grant. He also appears in videos on the site.
The flyer promoting Laming’s activities in the electorate was posted ahead of the 2016 election, with the post saying: “When we scheduled this post this was the only candidate that had a meaningful 1 pager on what he has achieved. Your decision, is this enough?”
The grants to the organisations set up by Luxton were awarded through the federal government’s Stronger Communities program, which provides funds to projects selected by MPs and a “community consultation committee” that are then assessed by the department.
According to the program’s guidelines, “MPs must declare any conflicts of interest to the community consultation committee and the department”.
In response to questions on Tuesday, Laming said: “There is no conflict and there is no scandal.
“Stronger Communities avoids any conflict by using a community committee in each electorate to make decisions.
“Large community dinner events provide overall feedback on the merits of each grant. This acts as a guide for the community committee.
“In Bowman’s case, almost all eligible applications receive some funding.”
He said the two organisations run by Luxton were both unsuccessful when they reapplied for grants the following year.
“Social enterprises like community gardens and movies in the park deserve to be judged on merit, like every other applicant,” he said.
“My office simply enters final data into the departmental portal”.
However Laming, who has not disclosed his patronage of the Community Connections organisation on his parliamentary register of interests, would not say if he had advised the department of a potential conflict given his political links to Luxton.
Luxton told Guardian Australia that the grant process was “pretty independent” from Laming, and they had not received as much funding as they had applied for.
“We put in an expression of interest, and that expression of interest goes through a process in Canberra,” Luxton said.
“Yes, we received some money back in 2018, and we have delivered hundreds of thousands of dollars to the community as a result,” he said.
He said the funding had helped dozens of community groups, with the AV equipment bought by Community Connections allowing the organisation to run movie nights which gave other organisations the opportunity to raise funds for their cause.
He said he “disputed 100%” that the organisations had unreasonably promoted the Liberal National party, pointing to the organisation’s main emcee being an “independent” councillor, Julie Talty. However Talty was an LNP candidate for the 2017 state election.
When asked about the group’s promotion of Laming, Luxton said he would support any community leader who showed an interest.
“He [Laming] is our local member, he is active in the local community, as he should be,” Luxton said.
“Whoever wants to be involved in community leadership, we will engage with them.”
He suggested that people were criticising “hard-working volunteers”, including Eaton, who had offered to help the organisation.
“If someone is going to put their hand up and say I can help out, I am not going to say no,” Luxton said.
“If there are community members, or supposed community leaders that are pointing the finger, at least get out there and get involved and get out there and support the community instead of throwing rocks at hard-working volunteers.”
Eaton did not respond to a request for comment.
Political pressure continues to mount on the government over Laming, with the controversial MP disendorsed by the LNP on Monday after he decided to push ahead with his nomination despite previously saying he would quit parliament at the next election in the wake of a series of complaints about his behaviour.
Laming, who is also under investigation by the Australian Electoral Commission for operating more than 30 Facebook pages without disclosing his political links, is in line for a $105,000 payout when he leaves parliament following his disendorsement.
He announced that he would stand down from his parliamentary duties and not contest the next election after he apologised for the online treatment of two Brisbane women, and after it emerged he had taken a photograph of a woman bending over.