Future of upskirting MP divides federal Coalition

Andrew Laming is accused of shocking behaviour towards several women. He will leave parliament at the next election.

Andrew Laming is accused of shocking behaviour towards several women. He will leave parliament at the next election.

Coalition MPs are torn on the future of disgraced MP Andrew Laming, with one senator breaking ranks to demand he leaves parliament immediately.

Dr Laming will not contest the next federal election but will remain in the Coalition party room until then, despite admitting to bullying, stalking and harassing several women.

The Queenslander, who has been in parliament for 17 years, is also under fire for taking a photo up a woman’s skirt at her workplace. That is a criminal offence punishable by up to three years in prison.

He has taken a month of taxpayer-funded medical leave to seek counselling and empathy training.

Senior ministers have described his behaviour as disgraceful and completely unacceptable.

But with the government clinging onto power by a threadbare majority, the Coalition has resisted calls for him to resign immediately.

On Monday, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg reiterated his view that Dr Laming should remain in parliament until the next election.

“I believe he should stay in Parliament as I said yesterday, but I also believe he should correct his behaviour,” he said.

“He was elected by his constituents to serve out of his term, he has a responsibility to deliver for them a better government.”

But Liberal senator Sarah Henderson wants Dr Laming booted from the Coalition, which would plunge the government into minority.

“It’s a matter for him as to whether he wants to leave the Liberal Party. I am uncomfortable about him sitting in the party room,” she told the Seven Network on Monday.

Sarah Henderson and Josh Frydenberg differ on the immediate future of Dr Laming.

Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said it was reasonable for Dr Laming to seek counselling and defended giving him one month’s paid medical leave.

“He is entitled to have this time off to go and seek this help,” she told ABC radio.

Senator Ruston would not say whether she would be happy for the disgraced MP to return to the Coalition.

“Let’s see whether Dr Laming understands the impact of his actions because I think he needs to understand that before he returns to the party room.”

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said the government’s each-way response was not good enough.

“There is no role for Andrew Laming in the parliament with this history of abusing people and trolling people and bullying and belittling people and potentially criminal issues at play,” Dr Chalmers said.

Dr Laming joins Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and Attorney-General Christian Porter as the third Liberal MP to take medical leave over a scandal this year.

Senator Reynolds took leave following her mishandling of rape allegations raised by former staffer Brittany Higgins.

Mr Porter is off work after being accused of raping a woman when he was a teenager, which he denies.

Both ministers are expected to shift portfolios in a looming reshuffle, but will remain in cabinet.

All three politicians are due to return to parliament on federal budget day in May.

The cases have uncovered many other incidents of unsavoury behaviour in Parliament House, with female politicians speaking out about its toxic nature.

Senator Henderson and Liberal MP Katie Allen have suggested alcohol and drug testing to improve the culture in Canberra.

Meanwhile, there is yet another sexual harassment scandal in Parliament House, with Nationals MP Anne Webster making a complaint against somebody who harassed her last week.

Dr Webster said she was shocked by the incident, especially as a major inquiry investigates the toxic workplace culture in parliament.

“My first thought was ‘You have got to be kidding me’,” she told ABC radio.

“I mean, really? I just was dumbfounded at this behaviour, because it wasn’t the first time. So for me it was like ‘No, I have to actually address this’.”

The other person involved has apologised and committed to not harass anyone again.

Dr Webster said she was satisfied with the outcome.

-with AAP

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