Two New South Wales MPs on a committee investigating whether cannabis should be approved for medical use have been caught out whiling away their time on Facebook during public hearings.
Crikey has obtained footage showing upper house Labor MPs Adam Searle and Amanda Fazio using their smartphones to message friends, look at memes and jokes and join Facebook groups during a March 11 public hearing of the use of cannabis for medical purposes inquiry. The footage was taken by filmmaker Richard Baron, who is filming a feature-length documentary, Marijuana Australiana, on cannabis use in Australia.
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“I was shocked to notice the conduct of various parliamentarians on the committee,” Baron told Crikey. “Several were using their phones quite frequently during the course of the hearing and from the screens I could glimpse, none of their activities were Parliament or work-related. In particular, Adam Searle spent a great deal of time facebooking wildly … I witnessed him looking at the page for the latest Iron Man movie and scrolling through seemingly endless ‘e-card’ memes.”
Baron says the use of social media reminds him of “schoolkids mucking around in class”.
In the footage Searle can be seen viewing popular memes at such a blinding rate his fast fingers would surely be the envy of any teenager. The opposition’s small business spokesman — who has come under criticism as a “part-time MP” for augmenting his $160,000 annual pay packet by working as a barrister — also appears to look at a group for novelists in Australia.
Speakers at the inquiry included women suffering from terminal cancer, police superintendents and public health experts.
When first questioned by Crikey about the claims, Fazio admitted she was using her BlackBerry but denied she was on Facebook during the hearing. “I’m not a frequent user of Facebook,” Fazio said. “When I do it’s usually when I’m at home. I don’t use Facebook when I’m at inquiries as that’s just not the way I operate. I responded to a text or two and I also responded to some emails, but that’s the extent of it.”
After being told there was video footage that seemed to contradict her remarks, Fazio changed her tune, saying after checking her Facebook account “it appears I did use it once at around 2.20pm”.
“This of course doesn’t mean that I wasn’t paying attention to the proceedings,” she said. “Like most other people, politicians must be able to multi-task. Please be assured that I am not in the habit of not paying attention to witnesses and believe that I play a constructive and productive role in the inquiries I participate in.”
Searle admits he was using Facebook on the day but only “to provide updates on the evidence” that was being taken by the committee. Searle rejects suggestions his social media use is inappropriate or excessive. “This, however, did not result in me not listening and taking in the evidence that was before the committee,” he said.
The NSW Legislative Council inquiry into the medical use of marijuana will table its final report on May 17.