Under-seige Morrison government MP Andrew Laming says his online behaviour has been “re-invented into harassment” and that the “facts are on my side”, claiming he only ever asked “hard questions” but apologised “for how it’s made people feel”.
The Queensland MP, who asked for privacy as he takes a month’s paid leave as he undertakes “clinical counselling”, and courses in “empathy and appropriate communication”, has explained his side of the story in a 16-minute interview with his local radio station. Laming has said he will not stand at the next election, but said he had no plans to leave the parliament until his term was completed.
Speaking to ABC Brisbane radio, Laming denied taking a photo under a woman’s skirt, claiming it was a “completely dignified” picture of a woman in her workplace “kneeling in an awkward position, and filling a fridge with an impossible amount of stock, which clearly wasn’t going to fit in the fridge”.
“That was the subject of the photograph, it was completely dignified,” he said.
“If it were not, there will be no sense in taking a photograph in the first place, and the point was to show a real live workplace, a humorous situation where a person was given a task that was clearly difficult. It was like a game of Tetris, trying to get the stick into a fridge.”
The woman in the photo, Crystal White, told Nine News the photo was “really inappropriate” and taken while she was bending over, exposing her underwear as she completed an office task at a landscape supply business in 2019.
Challenged on social media by a fellow employee of the business who witnessed the incident, Laming said the photo “wasn’t meant to be rude” and he thought “it was funny, but your reaction was awkward”.
“My reaction is, how is that funny? What’s funny about taking a picture of a lady bending over?,” White said in an interview with Nine News late last week.
Laming told the ABC he didn’t believe White had always held the view that she was disrespected, as she had engaged with him in conversation in the time since the incident.
“I certainly don’t think she held that view all the time,” he said. Challenged on that point by the interviewer, Laming said “it’s hard to know now, after all the events of last week, where various opinions were put to her.”
“But at the time of course, the photograph was of her in a completely dignified position, in no way compromised, doing a very hard job well, in full view of every customer, and this photograph was taken effectively from above, on the other side of the service counter, so a large distance away.
“… The purpose of the photo was to show that sometimes in work you have these herculean tasks put to you … and I made it very clear at the time. Of course, two years on, these things are very hard to untangle, and again all I can do is apologise unreservedly because taking a photograph of someone without asking first is a fundamental principle that a MP should be able to adhere to.”
Pushed on whether people may question whether he still didn’t “get it”, Laming said he was “only expanding [on] the facts”.
“The feelings of someone, for instance, who’s been harassed or asked questions or something must be respected,” he said.
“So my message on Thursday, Friday and over the weekend, is that my unconditional apology is for how it made people feel and I’m going to go and get the care and help that I can, to make sure that I don’t create these situations again. But fundamentally, though, if we go back to the question of the facts, I’d ask for people [to look at the whole situation]”.
As to allegations he has harassed people, including constituents and state Labor MPs, Laming said “with regards to public life, you need to accept that sometimes you will be asked hard questions and you either answer them, or you simply don’t.”
“And if you don’t answer questions, and you’re repeatedly asked the same question, at what point does it become harassment?”
Laming also defended taking photos of a state Labor MP who said he had “hid in bushes” while she met with constituents and family members in a park and said the full context of his questioning had not been shown.
“Show me the bush,” Laming said.
“Because actually there is no bushes in that park, only ground cover and I was standing with my family taking a photograph of them. None of this is known to you, and in the background was these two politicians and my [social media] post said, ‘why are they here in this park’ because it had only recently been opened. I mean, that is a legitimate question to ask, and to only be given the first half of a sentence in a post that said ‘get [state Labor MP] Miss Richards’, but not actually show the end of the sentence, which could well have said ‘get Miss Richards to answer a question’, is a completely different frame.”
Laming said he took responsibility “for the feelings that I’ve caused” but that people needed to take into account “the whole conversation”.
“I absolutely have made people feel exactly as they have described, and for that I am sincerely, sincerely sorry. And MPs are responsible not just for the words but the way they make people feel. And I can see that I’ve fallen far short in that respect. I’ve gone into conversations that were far more harsh and unkind than they should have been.
“And I’m partly responsible for that.”