Scott Morrison has defended the Liberal MP Andrew Laming over his decision not to relinquish a lucrative parliamentary role and praised him for doing “many good things” while in parliament.
Laming has returned from personal leave after undertaking counselling and empathy training prompted by a string of complaints alleging online abuse against his own constituents, but now claims he never promised to permanently resign from his extra parliamentary roles.
Laming has also accused critics of levelling “trumped-up” allegations against him and forced the Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young to apologise for accusing him of upskirting.
At the height of controversy on 27 March, Laming said he would “step down from all parliamentary roles effective immediately”.
But on returning to parliament on Tuesday, Laming refused to give up his position as the chair of a parliamentary committee on employment, education and training. He was supported by the Coalition, who blocked an attempt to force his resignation. The position adds $23,000 to his annual salary.
Laming now points to a 28 March statement in which he announced he had taken “health leave from all parliamentary, electorate and committee work”, claiming he never committed to permanently give up the chair’s role.
On Wednesday Morrison told ABC’s 7:30 that Laming “is not contesting the next election for the LNP”.
Asked about the committee role, Morrison responded that he, the prime minister, had “never made comments on that matter”.
“But [Laming] has formed a view since then that the issues that were the subject of complaints made against him have now altered and there have been new facts that have come forward,” he said.
Morrison said Laming would serve out his time in parliament. “He’s done many good things while he’s here as part of the government and I expect him to keep working hard for his electorate all the way to the next election.”
Morrison had previously described Laming’s online behaviour as disgraceful and the Bowman MP has been blocked from running for re-election as a Liberal.
In March Laming retracted and apologised for comments made to two constituents, Alix Russo and Sheena Hewlett. But in an email to Liberal National party members, revealed on Tuesday, Laming reportedly suggested some of the allegations made against him were “petty” and part of a “carefully choreographed” campaign against him.
In parliament Laming described Russo and Hewlett as “highly regarded individuals” but in the email, first reported by the Australian, described his critics as “long-time political opponents”. He defended his actions as “replying to their trolling”.
“It is extraordinary that I am left to prove my innocence, based on petty allegations trumped-up to be criminal in nature,” Laming reportedly said, an apparent reference to complaints levelled by Hewlett and the state MP, Kim Richards, about him photographing them in a park.
In a personal explanation to parliament, Laming continued to claim stalking and harassment accusations levelled against him were not true.
“Legitimate political questions I have asked online of opposition state MPs has been characterised as stalking,” he said.
“A photograph taken of my own wife playing with our family has been misrepresented as stalking and hiding in the bushes in a park where there are no bushes.”
Laming’s defence of his reputation includes engaging a defamation specialist solicitor, Rebekah Giles, who is also representing Christian Porter in his case against the ABC.
On Wednesday Hanson-Young issued a correction about another incident in which Laming allegedly took an inappropriate photograph of a woman while she was bending over. Laming has admitted taking the photo but maintains there was nothing inappropriate about it.
The woman in the photo made a formal complaint to the Queensland police, who concluded there was “no evidence to indicate a criminal offence” had been committed.
In a tweeted statement, Hanson-Young said she wished to “correct the record regarding comments” she had made about Laming’s behaviour.
“I had understood from reports in the media that Mr Laming had taken a photo of a young woman bending over in a skirt,” she said.
“On Saturday May 1st, I made comments on the Today Show that reflected these reports.
“I have since been informed that the police received a complaint that the woman was in fact wearing a pair of shorts, not a skirt.
“I stand corrected, and I apologise.”
During his leave, Laming was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and in interviews he has credited medication with changing his life.
The government has blocked attempts from the independent senator Rex Patrick to discover what empathy training Laming has undertaken.
The finance minister, Simon Birmingham, responded to a question on notice that Laming had advised the prime minister “that he would arrange to undertake appropriate training”.
“The details and nature of that training is a matter for the member for Bowman.”