A Facebook page managed by the president of a local Labor branch in Queensland has been sharing incendiary posts, including claims that Liberal MP Gladys Liu is a Chinese spy, an ABC investigation has found.
- Facebook pages run by Labor Party branch members have been spreading conspiracies and misinformation
- The ALP says the pages are not official and that it does not endorse the content
- An expert says both the ALP and Facebook have a responsibility to act
The official Facebook page of the ALP branch in the Queensland electorate of Wright regularly shares pro-Labor and anti-government infographics, articles and memes.
They include a post fueling the conspiracy theory that Ms Liu, the federal member for the Victorian seat of Chisholm, is a spy, and others implying Liberal members including Prime Minister Scott Morrison are part of a group who use the parliamentary prayer room for sexual acts .
The page, “Labor for Wright”, was created in 2013 and is co-run by the president of the ALP’s Boonah branch, Julie Jackson. She has also served as campaign manager for former federal Labor candidate Sharon Murakami.
The page has around 850 followers and does not include a political authorization. It currently describes itself as “the Labor page for our region” and states that the Boonah branch meets once a month.
In a post from April 19, a picture of Ms Liu is superimposed on a tweet raising questions about her links to Nick Zhao — a man who claimed he was offered $1 million by a suspected Chinese spy to infiltrate the Australian parliament. The words “I spy with my little eye” have been added to the image.
Ms Liu has been the subject of sustained attacks for failing to disclose her membership of organizations linked to the Chinese Communist Party, but has insisted the links are innocent.
In another post from April 18, a picture of the Prime Minister is shown above a list titled “Prayer Group”, featuring around 20 conservative members of the government. One commenter implied the members were part of a group who used the parliamentary prayer room for sexual acts, referring to a Channel 10 report from last year that alleged the room was used for sex, but did not explicitly name any politician.
High profile YouTuber Jordan Shanks, aka FriendlyJordies, has since published a document prepared by law firm Sparke Helmore that named three politicians involved in the alleged events. The document does not name the Prime Minister.
A third post shared by the page on April 19 highlights misogynistic comments by LNP candidate Glenn Doyle, who in 2018 said he was “on the fence” over whether married women should be allowed to get an education.
The Labor for Wright page goes further, commenting that Mr Doyle’s views “showcased the LNP attitude to women really well… you know the ‘swinging dicks’ club in Canberra, masturbating over women staffers’ desks, ignoring rapists etc”.
Other posts on the page include political memes, information about Labor’s policies, and pictures from local campaign events.
The page also organizes and promotes meet and greets with current Labor candidate Pam McCreadie.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the ALP said the Facebook page “is not an official or authorized page, and we do not endorse its content.”
The spokesperson also said the party had alerted Facebook and requested the page be removed.
“Facebook is responsible for applying its terms and conditions to unauthorized pages,” the spokesperson wrote.
On Thursday ALP Boonah branch president Julie Jackson told the ABC that someone from the ALP team asked her to take down three posts.
She did not respond to detailed written questions about her role in running Labor for Wright.
The ALP did not respond to direct questions about why it did not ask Ms Jackson to remove the page.
On Thursday, the page had removed the Gladys Liu post and changed its name from “Labor for Wright” to “Labor for Wright Supporters — Boonah Branch.”
Balmain branch caught out
The revelations come after another page, “Balmain Labor”, was caught sharing anti-Semitic and misogynist memes.
The Daily Telegraph found that the page described itself as the “official page of the Australian Labor Party Balmain Branch” and shared an offensive post showing Treasurer Josh Frydenberg photoshopped into a Nazi uniform under the caption “Bogan’s Heroes”.
Mr Frydenberg’s mother was born in Hungary and escaped the Holocaust to Australia, arriving as a child via a refugee camp in 1950. Several of his relatives died in Hitler’s death camps.
Other posts include Tony Abbott’s former chief of staff Peta Credlin likening to a witch, and attacking the PM for his Pentecostal faith.
A spokesman for NSW Labor said: “This is not an official Australian Labor Party page and its content is not authorized or endorsed by Labor.”
“The images should not have been posted.”
The ABC was unable to independently confirm if the page was run by local branch members.
The page has since been removed, but the Liberal Party has jumped on the Telegraph report and repurposed it as campaign material to attack Labor.
Several other pages, including “Coffs Harbor Labor” and “Nambucca River ALP”, also run by local branch members, have continued to share posts about a secret government plan to force all pensioners onto a cashless debit card. Scott Morrison has called it an “absolute lie.”
A detailed RMIT Fact Check also found that expanding the cashless debit card system to age pensioners is not currently part of the Coalition’s official policy platform, and there Is no evidence to suggest it plans to do so.
Labor has denied the claims are a scare campaign, saying it makes “no apologies for highlighting this issue — and we will not take lectures from this government on scare campaigns.”
Tensions between national and state branches
Despite the limited reach of the posts on these unofficial Facebook pages, questions have arisen around whether the ALP bears responsibility for the content posted on them.
Professor Daniel Angus from the Queensland University of Technology’s Digital Media Research Center says there is no simple answer.
“It’s fair to say that there is a fair amount of tension often between the national executive and the local branch level that often they’re being let run fairly autonomously,” he told the ABC.
Professor Angus said he did not think parties should be able to quash any member doing things that do not align with a particular party’s message.
But he did acknowledge problematic content needed to be dealt with, both by the party and platforms like Facebook.
“Do I think that it’s poor practice, and that they’re probably doing themselves a disservice by this material being out there in such a traceable and public format? Yes,” he said.
“I think it shows an immaturity and that some of the people that are contributing to this discourse are largely immature with their approach to politics and really connecting with the broader public’s views and concerns around what matters to them.”