Michael McCormack has again been dragged over controversial comments about Black Lives Matter rallies, digging in on Monday’s roundly-criticised comments and countering that “all lives matter”.
The Acting Prime Minister also remained staunchly behind his maverick Coalition colleagues Craig Kelly and George Christensen sharing misinformation about the US election, the US Capitol insurrection and COVID pandemic, claiming “facts are sometimes contentious”.
Mr McCormack, on just his second day filling in as PM while Scott Morrison takes a week of leave, continued to stoke controversy in media interviews and press conferences on Tuesday.
Labor’s shadow health minister Chris Bowen slammed the acting PM’s claims as “beyond disgusting”.
“Australians of colour deserve to know that the government thinks more of them than that, and to have the Acting Prime Minister spout the words ‘all lives matter’ to diminish the Black Lives Matter movement, was beyond disgusting,” he said.
Deputy PM @M_McCormackMP has doubled down on his comparison of the assault on the US Capitol with the Black Lives Matter protests.
"It involves violence, it involves destruction of property, it involves deaths of people. And any violence of that form is condemned." pic.twitter.com/QrF4tiGZF7
— News Breakfast (@BreakfastNews) January 11, 2021
On Monday, Mr McCormack compared the violent US Capitol riot, which left five people dead, including a police officer, to the largely peaceful Black Lives Matter rallies across Australia in 2020.
Mr McCormack called those rallies “race riots”, and doubled down in an ABC TV interview on Tuesday.
“Any form of violence, any form of protest that ends in death and destruction is abhorred … whether it’s a protest over racial riots or, indeed, what we’ve seen on Capitol Hill in recent days,” he said.
When asked how he could compare the largely peaceful Australian rallies to the invasion of the Capitol and huge damage to the building, Mr McCormack said “it involves violence, it involves destruction of property, it involves deaths of people”.
In a later press conference, the Acting PM claimed critics of his comments, such as human rights group Amnesty International, were “confecting outrage”.
“Irrespective of what the agenda of that protest was, there was violence, there was destruction … and, of course, there’s lives lost,” Mr McCormack said.
“[Amnesty] should know those lives matter too. All lives matter.”
“All lives matter” is a phrase that has been co-opted and used by critics of the Black Lives Matter movement. It has also been used by white supremacist groups.
Michael McCormack goes the "all lives matter" and says there were 19 lives lost in BLM protests. Gets onto the war. On Capitol riot says things going on in the US now are "very, very unsavoury". #auspol pic.twitter.com/du83scGfOX
— David Marler (@Qldaah) January 12, 2021
The last time the phrase made a significant entry to Australian politics was when One Nation leader Pauline Hanson proposed a Senate motion with the wording.
That was in June 2020, just days after the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd at the hands of police, and following huge BLM protests held around Australia and the world.
Senator Hanson’s motion was voted down 51-2 by the Senate.
“That sentence, taken in isolation looks relatively straight forward, but you have to consider things in their context,” said former Liberal senator Mathias Cormann, of the ‘all lives matter’ line at the time.
“In the current context it does raise a whole series of complex policy matters that we believe cannot be dealt with just by a simple notice of motion in the fashion as was proposed.”
Greens senator Nick McKim called Mr McCormack’s comments “deliberate race-baiting”.
“Last year, the Senate united to block Pauline Hanson from using this racist dogwhistle in Parliament. Now, the Acting PM is using it in press conferences to defend his own racist dismissal of black deaths in America,” he said.
Mr Bowen said the BLM rallies were “legitimate and peaceful protest, not a violent attempt at insurrection”.
“Those people around the world who engaged in peaceful protests in the Black Lives Matter movement deserve better than to have the Acting Prime Minister compare them to the violence and thuggery we saw at the US Capitol last week,” he said.
Amnesty International also responded, claiming Mc McCormack was “continuing to show his ignorance about what Black Lives Matters mean”, and that he was “backing up President Trump”.
Mr McCormack also stuck to his defence of Mr Kelly and Mr Christensen.
Nationals MP Mr Christensen has previously shared Facebook posts claiming “vote fraud” and “dodgy extra votes” in the American election, while Liberal MP Mr Kelly has published claims – since rubbished by the FBI – that left-wing “Antifa” protesters were involved in the US insurrection.
Both have shared other debunked claims about the pandemic, including around masks and health treatments.
Mr McCormack backed them in, describing Mr Christensen kindly as “a bit of a free spirit” who “sometimes pushes the boundaries of controversy on social media”.
“I mean, facts sometimes are contentious, aren’t they? And what you may think is right, somebody else might think is completely untrue. And that’s part of living in a democratic country,” he told the ABC.
“I’m not in favour of censorship, never have been.”
Mr Bowen claimed Mr Kelly was “undermining” institutions such as the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and federal health officials.
Senator McKim claimed Mr McCormack’s claims were “an attempt to take Australia down the dangerous path of post-truth politics”.