Senior Labor politicians say Prime Minister Scott Morrison has “questions to answer” after Four Corners‘ investigation into his friendship with a prominent Australian supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theory, claiming it raises “national security” risks.
But Treasurer Josh Frydenberg shrugged off the criticisms, saying it was “rubbish” to suggest the PM had links to the dangerous conspiracy.
“I watched that story last night and I found it to be incredibly creepy,” Labor’s shadow treasurer, Jim Chalmers, said on Tuesday.
The ABC’s Four Corners aired a report on Monday night into Mr Morrison’s friendship with a man named Tim Stewart, allegedly a proponent of the discredited and baseless QAnon conspiracy.
The report included interviews with Mr Stewart’s family, who raised concerns about his behaviour, and detailed his friendship with Mr Morrison. Four Corners reported that Mr Stewart and his wife Lynelle were good friends with Mr Morrison and his wife Jenny, and that Ms Stewart had been employed at Kirribilli House – the PM’s Sydney residence.
Central to Four Corners‘ report were text messages alleged to have been sent by Mr Stewart, claiming he would ask Mr Morrison to alter the text of his 2018 apology to victims of institutional sex abuse, to include the phrase “ritual abuse”.
It was not proven whether Mr Stewart actually passed that message on to Mr Morrison, but the PM did use the phrase in his apology speech. The term “ritual abuse” has a specific meaning among QAnon supporters, to denote their bizarre claims about Satanic abuse linked to paedophilia.
Mr Morrison has recently rejected claims he had any links to QAnon, calling it “dangerous”. His office has said the government will not respond to “baseless conspiracy theories being peddled by Four Corners“.
In Parliament on Tuesday, The New Daily asked numerous politicians about QAnon and whether they were concerned about the ABC’s revelations.
Labor politicians said Mr Morrison must explain any connections to Mr Stewart more clearly.
“The Prime Minister does have serious questions to answer about this relationship with these characters pushing all kinds of dangerous conspiracy theories … He should answer them as soon as possible,” Mr Chalmers said on Tuesday.
Fellow Labor frontbencher Chris Bowen said he was “appalled” by revelations in Four Corners, accusing Mr Morrison of “a shocking lack of judgment”.
“In the absence of any proper defence from the Prime Minister, it is in my view the case that Four Corners has established that the Prime Minister allowed a QAnon conspiracy theorist to have input into an important speech,” he said.
“No politician of any side should have any truck in any dealings with QAnon.”
Mr Bowen said the PM was entitled to personal friendships, and should not be held accountable for friends’ political views, but said the story went deeper.
“If the Prime Minister of this country has allowed a discredited conspiracy group, which is dangerous and regarded as a terrorist threat by the FBI, to have input to government statements, then that is a matter of the most serious grievance,” he said.
Mr Bowen said he believed the issue had national security implications.
But Coalition members jumped to the PM’s defence. Mr Frydenberg said he didn’t watch the program, but denied there was any issue.
“This notion that the Prime Minister is close to QAnon is absolute rubbish,” he said on Tuesday.
Communications minister Paul Fletcher has previously raised concerns with ABC chair Ita Buttrose over some of the broadcaster’s journalism. He was asked at a press conference whether he would do so again over the QAnon story, but didn’t directly answer.
“The allegation there’s a connection between the Prime Minister and QAnon is just laughable, ridiculous, and frankly I’m not going to dignify it with a more detailed response,” Mr Fletcher said.
“The story was ridiculous.”
Liberal senator James Paterson, chair of the powerful Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, also said he hadn’t watched the program but rejected suggestions there was anything inappropriate.
“As far as I know, no evidence was put forward in that program which links the Prime Minister to QAnon,” he said in response to TND‘s questions.
“I didn’t watch the report. Frankly, I’ve got better things to do, as I suspect most Australians did.”
Four Corners executive producer Sally Neighbour tweeted that Monday’s episode was its “highest rating program this year”.
Senator Paterson said he had “sought briefings” from Australian intelligence agencies on QAnon, and while it is not currently listed as a terror threat in Australia, “any organisation that presents a credible threat will be listed”.
“I’d be concerned if any Australian politician had sympathies for what is a discredited, outrageous conspiracy theory. That would be of great concern, but as far as I’m aware, there’s no evidence any Australian politician, least of all the Prime Minister, has any sympathies for such organisations.” Senator Paterson said.
Nationals MP Anne Webster was the target of horrendous, defamatory abuse from QAnon supporters in 2020. She said she had watched Four Corners.
“I am concerned about QAnon, very much so. Innocent people are damaged by their claims, as I have through my own court case. I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of platforms, in terms of how they are managed, because online predatory behaviour is not going away, so we need to ensure that we can do better than we are.”
Asked if she had any specific concerns about Mr Morrison’s links to Mr Stewart, Ms Webster said “we all have associations with people that we don’t agree with”.
“That’s something for him to speak about,” she said.