Scott Morrison has called in the police over “faked” Facebook posts that threaten to derail another Liberal candidate as Labor resists calls to dump one its own for rape “jokes” on social media.
Jessica Whelan, the Liberal candidate for Lyons, has denied she made anti-Muslim Facebook posts.
But The Hobart Mercury has since obtained other Facebook posts where she criticised penalty rate cuts and complained about public hospitals.
Under fire Liberal candidate for Lyons, Jessica Whelan refuses to answer questions over racist comments online. She claims she’s being set to up. The pack turned at the end of an hour-long picture opportunity at #AgFest in Tasmania. @10NewsFirst #AusVotes19 pic.twitter.com/35BmnOr2AF
— Jonathan Lea (@JonathanLea10) May 2, 2019
Ms Whelan spent much of Thursday avoiding the media at a campaign event in Tasmania as new questions emerged over the posts. At one point, members of Mr Morrison’s media team formed a human shield to prevent journalists asking her questions.
“I don’t think it’s hard to believe in this day and age that images can be doctored,” Mr Morrison said.
“All we can do, all Jessica can do, is refer the matter to the AFP and have confidence in their ability to pursue the matter in the way you’d expect the AFP to.”
Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek urged the Morrison Government to disendorse her, but then declined to answer questions about Labor’s candidate in Melbourne, Luke Creasey.
He has apologised for posting a “rape joke” when he was 21 on Facebook.
“Racism is racism is racism,” Ms Plibersek said.
“When you’ve got two candidates saying very similar things, I think it’s absolutely vital that the Prime Minister shows some leadership.”
The social media fallout also embroiled another minor party candidate on Thursday.
Footballer Darren Winter, who is running for the United Australia Party in Tasmania was caught out on Facebook complaining that teenage girls who engage in backchat should get “a slap across the face”.
In 2010, Mr Winter – Clive Palmer’s candidate in the marginal Labor-held seat of Franklin, in southern Tasmania – used his Facebook wall to complain about disciplining teenage girls.
“Teenage girls are just shitheads,” the father of four and grandfather wrote.
“Have lots of theories on what should happen to teenage girls or how they should be handled.
“I’m pretty sure these things went out 50 years ago but would like to start a movement to bring them back in.
“Something like any backchat, a slap across the face.”
On Thursday, UAP’s Tasmanian campaign manager John Harris said Mr Winter was in a meeting with Mr Palmer and couldn’t discuss the social media post.
“I’ve seen that one. I’ve just actually asked the Facebook administrator. why … they have trawled back 10 years on one of our candidates to find one post about child discipline,” he said.
Asked if it was a genuine post by Mr Winter, Mr Harris said he would need to check.
But he then said it was “a joke”.
“Hang on, have you got children? If I trawled back on your wall and find something about your parenting technique and you were elected for politics do you think it’s fair that I would then comment on your parenting strategies?” he said.
“I mean, my parents beat me mercilessly and were part of the Christian church. But if I post that on my Facebook wall, does that affect my ability as a candidate for any party?
“Ten years, to find one child discipline thing. I think it was Darren’s first post and he was joking. It was a conversation between him and two of his sisters about what the hell do we do with our of daughters these days.”
Asked to confirm the spelling of his name, Mr Harris then hung up.
Mr Winter’s candidate profile notes he is “an excellent footballer”.
“He played with the Geelong and Essendon reserves before moving to Tasmania in 1989, where he amassed 240 games and was part of nine premierships with the Clarence District Football Club, three as a playing coach.”
He owns the Lauderdale Bakehouse, which he has operated for 16 years.
The Liberal Party is promising a post-mortem of its vetting processes after a day of drama in which two candidates were dumped within hours on Wednesday – one for homophobic comments and another over anti-Muslim sentiment.
On Thursday, the controversy surrounding Ms Whelan and the Facebook posts flared as an issue in the Tasmanian Parliament.
The Mercury reported she also railed against reducing penalty rates.
“We’re highly unlikely to be able to keep our employees onboard if we tell them we’re no longer going to pay them weekend penalty rates,” she said.
“Why would people give up their weekends with their families for crap money when they could just get Government payments instead?”
Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman noted that Ms Whelan denied making the anti-Muslim posts but added “those words are abhorrent, and if they were used by any person, they should not be endorsed in the upcoming election”.