A Coalition MP who came out in favour of pill testing has been accused of astroturfing, after starting a Facebook page to attack a prominent drug-checking group.
Queensland MP Andrew Laming set up the page, "No Pill Testing Australia" on Monday.
The page spoofs imagery from the actual Pill Testing Australia group, which has run two drug-checking trials in Canberra.
It was created a day before Mr Laming told the ABC's RN Drive program he wanted to find a middleground on the issue.
"If you want to test pills you've got to take it out of the festival. It can be nearby, it can be in a local hospital, you can post it off as they do in Europe, but then it allows the music festival to continue under the same rules that apply in the rest of the country, which is that you can't walk around buying or selling pills," Mr Laming said.
Mr Laming also told The Canberra Times last month he would support a back-of-house testing model.
If state governments were to pursue pill testing, they needed to deploy gold standard technology "or not at all", he said.
At the time, Canberra emergency physician Dr David Caldicott - who is one of the driving forces of Pill Testing Australia - dismissed the prospect, describing the post-testing consultation with drug and alcohol professionals as "the secret sauce of the pill testing".
That rejection was the catalyst for Mr Laming to set up the page, he said on Friday.
"That paranoid defensiveness was the final straw that led me to establish an alternative platform for people with different views," Mr Laming said.
"It's a platform to discuss pill testing policy, whether you support it or not."
He said the name "No to Pill Testing Australia" was not a rejection of pill testing in Australia, but rather of the model of drug-testing being pushed by Pill Testing Australia.
Dr Caldicott posted a screenshot of the Facebook page on Twitter on Friday.
The screengrab, taken on October 1, had included a phone number linked to Mr Laming's electorate office. The number no longer appears on the page. Mr Laming said his office removed the phone number as it did not have the resources to deal with the abusive calls.
Dr Caldicott said the page amounted to astroturfing - a practice where the true sponsors of a message or organisation is masked, to make it seem like it comes from grassroots participants.
The clever term ‘astroturfing’ refers to the creation of false grass roots campaigns to influence public narrative.— David Caldicott (@ACTINOSProject) October 3, 2019
This new FB group- only 3 days old!- forgot to conceal their phone number.
It was quickly removed, but not before a screenshot...
Surprised to see who owns it? pic.twitter.com/6Eal7gyJHW
"From my perspective, it's all a little bit pitiful really," Dr Caldicott said.
"If you want to have a debate about the issues, let's do that, but to go about it this way, it's not academic, it's adolescent."
But Mr Laming said the fact he was running the page was "completely transparent".
"You just have to ask and I'll tell you. I'm thrilled with the attention it's getting, importantly from both sides of the debate," Mr Laming said.
"It's great to have the hysteria but if you want to know who runs it, just ask."
While the page is categorised as "politician" or "political organisation", it does not disclose anywhere that Mr Laming or his office runs it.
Shortly after being contacted by The Canberra Times, a post went up stating: "It's hardly a secret. Only one MP takes you on right?".
Mr Laming confirmed he was using his taxpayer funded office to help coordinate the page.
"It's a big part of my personal policy platform," Mr Laming said.
"It's completely legitimate to run an issues-based Facebook page."
His goal was to "antagonise" Pill Testing Australia to address questions about the limitations of the technology it used to test drugs, as well as the potential legal ramifications associated with a trial.
But Dr Caldicott said the page was "daft and hilarious".
"It's the behaviour of someone who knows they're losing an argument through normal means," Dr Caldicott said.