The Australian Christian Democratic Party MP Fred Nile has come under fire for a controversial post on his party's official Facebook page linking the death of Charlotte Dawson to a pregnancy termination during her marriage to Olympic swimmer Scott Miller.
Late on Sunday, a photograph of Dawson was posted on the Official Christian Democratic Party website along with the claim that the "poignant story" of Dawson's 1999 abortion was "left unmentioned in many obituaries".
"Many I am sure are now aware of the tragic ending to Charlotte Dawson," the post said. "It highlights how depression and self-harm can affect anyone.
"Charlotte Dawson revealed in her autobiography how she aborted her child with swimmer Scott Miller because he didn't want any distractions in the lead-up to the Sydney Olympics."
Dawson was found dead on Saturday at her Woolloomooloo home after a well-publicised battle with depression.
The Facebook page extracted a section of Dawson's 2012 memoir Air Kiss & Tell in which she said she felt "a shift" after the termination.
"Maybe it was hormonal, but I felt the early tinges of what I can now identify as my first experience with depression," she wrote.
The Twitter hashtag "#teamnile" was written in the corner of a graphic featuring the quote and a photo of Dawson.
In an open letter to Nile, PhD student Angela Williams wrote that she was "disgusted" by the post.
She said her post labelling the comments "inappropriate" had been removed from the Facebook page.
"Since you choose to remove my dissenting comments on your Facebook post I am writing to you here to ask why you think it is appropriate to continue the bullying of Charlotte Dawson after her tragic death," she wrote.
"It shows that your core motivation is to drive forward your agenda, regardless of any harm that may cause her family and loved ones, or the impact it may have on anyone facing the difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy. It also shows your absolute lack of regard for anyone struggling with mental health issues."
Nile did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Asked if he stood by the post, Nile said: "Charlotte Dawson's story is a sad tragedy as she, like many, is a victim of depression. Her story needs to be told because, if it could happen to a strong and successful woman such as Charlotte, it can happen to anyone. May she finally be at peace. Our sympathy and prayers are with her loved ones."
In an apparent move to limit the fallout from the comments, Nile tweeted a link on Monday afternoon to a Change.org petition calling for tougher cyber bullying laws.
"Please sign this petition to support 'Charlotte's Law'. Let's make cyberbullying laws tougher in Australia," Mr Nile wrote from his official Twitter account @frednile.
Dawson attempted suicide in August 2012 following a string of abusive Tweets from trolls, including one who told her: "Go hang yourself."
The Change.org petition had attracted almost 35,000 tweets by Monday afternoon.
It is not the first time there have been calls for Australian state and federal governments to crack down on cyber bulling.
A similar petition called for changes to the law in the wake of the suicide of 15-year-old bullying victim Chloe Ferguson.
Attorney-General Greg Smith's office said late last year that the government had "no plans for any new legislation in this regard".
"The Standing Council on Law and Justice [set up by the Council of Australian Governments] considered this issue in October 2012 and agreed existing offences provided adequate coverage," a spokeswoman said at the time.
WHERE TO FIND HELP
If you or someone you know needs to talk, these are 24-hour helplines:
Lifeline: 0800 543 354
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Samaritans: 0800 726 666
If it is an emergency call 111
For information about suicide prevention, see http://www.spinz.org.nz
- Sydney Morning Herald