Liberal MP Andrew Laming has been criticised for using a recently diagnosed medical condition to help explain his erratic behaviour, as he seeks to return to the Coalition party room after a month of personal leave.
Laming revealed on Wednesday he had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), suggesting the condition explained his history of unpredictable behaviour, which included recent reports of online harassment of women and taking an “inappropriate” photograph of a woman bending over.
But psychiatrist Dr Karen Williams, the founder of Doctors Against Violence Against Women, said ADHD was not normally associated with such behaviour.
“I cannot comment on Andrew Laming’s diagnosis specifically, but ADHD is not a cause for remorselessness or other antisocial behaviour such as harassment,” Williams told Guardian Australia.
“Medication for ADHD serves to improve focus and attention but it doesn’t change your ethics, it doesn’t change your levels of compassion or empathy. There is no drug for empathy.”
Williams also warned it could be “stigmatising” for sufferers of ADHD or other mental health problems to see a public figure suggest his poor behaviour was linked to his medical condition.
Labor frontbencher Penny Wong also raised concern about Laming using the diagnosis to explain his behaviour, saying she was worried it could be a slur on the many Australians living with ADHD.
“I do not think it is a justification,” Wong told ABC TV.
“What I would say is that I have not seen people use – parents of children or others who may have this diagnosis – haven’t seen people use the diagnosis as a justification or rationalisation of these sorts of behaviours of what appeared to be a persistent pattern of harassment that has been described.”
The Queensland MP, who is being investigated by the Australian Electoral Commission for his online activity, told news.com.au that he also had an “online addiction” that saw him post 50,000 comments across more than 30 social media accounts every year.
Despite several of his female colleagues expressing concern about Laming returning to the Coalition party room after reports of his online harassment of women, the rogue MP has asserted he is “confident” they will welcome him back when he returns to parliament in two weeks’ time.
He claims he has been vindicated by police who cleared him of any legal wrongdoing over a photograph he took of a woman who was bent over while stocking a fridge – despite the woman making a formal complaint about his behaviour.
Following the series of reports about Laming’s behaviour, the social services minister, Anne Ruston, described his actions as “abhorrent” and called on him to reflect on his place in the Liberal National party room.
While suggesting his Liberal colleagues were “right” to abandon him at the time, Laming said they had done so with a limited amount of information and insisted circumstances had now changed.
“I am confident that they will have changed their mind by the time we go back, because they spoke at a time when there were some pretty ridiculous allegations that have since, in fact just a day later, fell over,” he said.
He has notified the prime minister of his diagnosis, describing it as a “new insight” into his behaviour, while insisting he is not looking for a “free pass”.
Laming said the “ridiculous” allegation that led to calls for him to be dumped from the party was that a photo he had taken at a Queensland business of a woman stocking a fridge had been inappropriate.
“The police have examined that. This was a broad workplace photo of the entire workplace. We mutually agreed they didn’t want to use that photo. So we just deleted it and that was the end of the story.
“What I am saying is when these facts were explored, the case was thrown out. What was described wasn’t true.”
The woman who was photographed, Crystal White, made a formal complaint to police about the incident, alleging it was a “really inappropriate” photo of her bottom and exposed underwear.
While saying the ADHD diagnosis was not an excuse for his behaviour, Laming said the diagnosis and subsequent medication had been life-changing, with him noticing an “incredible impact” after just a day of treatment.
“I took medication the next day. On the second day, I am just absolutely clear on the biological nature of this. I was stunned that I had taken a tablet and the thoughts I had lived with, all my life, raging in my head were just polite,” he said in the news.com.au interview, which was recorded at his Brisbane home.
Laming, who has a family history of ADHD and is trained as an eye doctor, also suggested the diagnosis was related to his obsessive behaviour online.
The Australian Electoral Commission has been in discussions with Facebook about Laming’s online activity, with the MP operating more than 30 pages under the guise of community and news groups without any disclosure of his political links.
Laming has not denied operating the pages – one of which purported to be an education institute – describing his social media activity as a consuming addiction that led him to writing as many as 50,000 social media comments across 30 community pages each year.
“If there’s an addiction and a focus it would have been online activity. I was always online,’’ Laming said.
Guardian Australia has separately reported that Laming awarded a $550,000 grant to a rugby club linked to a former staffer, and two grants to community organisations which promoted the LNP and which were run by an LNP branch president.
Laming has said there was “no conflict and no scandal” in awarding the grants.
Following the series of complaints about his behaviour, Laming was disendorsed by the LNP after he decided to push ahead with his nomination to run at the next election despite previously saying he would quit parliament.