Rogue Coalition backbenchers George Christensen and Matt Canavan have slammed the use of COVID lockdowns and deployment of military on Australian streets.
The duo used a series of speeches and interviews to question the stances of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
Mr Christensen was chided for not wearing a mask on the floor of Parliament on Tuesday, after earlier defending the actions of anti-lockdown protesters, and saying the government shouldn’t be mandating masks.
Meanwhile, Senator Canavan told an internet talk show hosted by Donald Trump’s former chief of staff Steve Bannon that “we need to stand up against this”, claiming Australians were “slowly losing our mind” over COVID-19 restrictions.
It comes amid rising concern about vaccine hesitancy, furious debate about a Labor policy to initiate $300 vaccine incentives, and new statistics showing regional Australia – including Mr Christensen’s Queensland heartland – had worryingly low rates of vaccination.
Christensen blasts lockdowns, military
Just a day after Mr Morrison laid out detailed scientific modelling showing COVID deaths would skyrocket by thousands if social distancing rules were dropped, Mr Christensen made publicised calls for “immediate freedom” from all restrictions.
Sharing a speech he gave to the Coalition party room meeting on Monday, Mr Christensen directly rebuked several key positions of Liberal leaders.
“We should not be condoning premiers shutting state borders and locking cities and states down,” Mr Christensen said, according to a copy of the speech he posted on social media on Wednesday afternoon.
“We should not be putting army troops on the streets to patrol citizens.
“I’m not anti-vax. I’m pro-freedom.”
Just moments before posting that document, Mr Christensen had been criticised by the Labor opposition and reprimanded by House of Representatives speaker Tony Smith in Parliament’s question time.
“Why has the Prime Minister failed to condemn the Member for Dawson’s irresponsible undermining of public health measures designed to stop the spread of COVID, including his support of civil disobedience?” Labor MP Mike Freelander asked.
just now in Parliament – Coalition MP George Christensen defends anti-lockdown protesters:
— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) August 3, 2021
Mr Morrison said on Tuesday that lockdowns “are now our first response” and “how you stay ahead” of Delta virus outbreaks.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg added “short, sharp lockdowns are the most cost-effective way to handle the virus”.
On Wednesday, Mr Morrison began answering Mr Freelander’s question by saying politicians were “accountable for their own actions”.
But he was interrupted when Labor MP Tony Burke pointed out Mr Christensen was not wearing a face mask.
Under new COVID rules in Parliament House this week, politicians and others in the building are asked to wear a mask when in public areas.
Mr Christensen hurriedly put on his mask, but later clarified he had only removed it as he prepared to ask the next question in question time.
Mr Morrison continued to say: “I don’t share the views of the Member for Dawson on that matter … but I tell you what, in this country people have a right to free speech.”
On his Telegram page, Mr Christensen later described Mr Burke as “full Karen” and a “dibber-dobber”.
In the party room speech he posted to his social media, Mr Christensen also told his colleagues “we should not be mandating the wearing of masks”.
“Liberty and freedom … should not be done away because of a virus,” Mr Christensen wrote.
Christensen heartland with lagging vaccine rates
New vaccination figures, released by the federal government this week, showed parts of Queensland – the state both Nationals politicians represent – had the lowest jab figures in the country.
In Mackay, where Mr Christensen’s seat is located, just 10.2 per cent of people were fully vaccinated.
That is the second-lowest rate in the nation, only beating outback Western Australia’s 8.6 per cent, and compares to to 20.24 per cent of adults fully vaccinated nationwide.
In Central Queensland, just 30 per cent of adults had received even a first dose, compared to 42 per cent nationwide.
There are fears that Queensland’s nation-leading vaccine hesitancy – pegged at nearly 31 per cent in a recent Melbourne Institute report – could hold Australia back from reaching national vaccination rates of 80 per cent needed to reopen the nation.