Scott Morrison has described rogue backbencher George Christensen’s comments on a far-right conspiracy podcast as “appalling” and suggested he go quietly into retirement – as the Prime Minister also took a swipe at media for reporting the incendiary claims and “drawing it to people’s attention”.
But despite two days of criticism from senior members of his own party, Mr Christensen appears unfazed, posting a bizarre video online with his face superimposed over Mel Gibson’s from the movie Braveheart, and shrugging off complaints as “hyperventilation”.
The controversial member for Dawson’s comments on the notorious Infowars show, where he laughed at host Alex Jones’s comparison of Australian quarantine facilities to the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz and called for protests at Australian embassies, have been savaged by Labor, which claims Mr Morrison has lost control of his increasingly wayward backbench.
“I thought those comments were appalling and I have spoken to George directly about them,” the PM said on Wednesday.
“George is not a candidate for the LNP at the next election and I think George should quietly go into retirement.”
Mr Christensen, who has increasingly flirted with far-right media and called for “civil disobedience” on vaccine mandates and Australia’s COVID response, will not stand for re-election at the 2022 poll. Instead, he has been building a media profile for his post-parliament life, launching his own news website and paid email newsletter, as well as appearing regularly on American media outlets.
Mr Christensen has been widely criticised for his December 4 interview on Infowars. Jones has previously published vile conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook school shooting being faked, and spread the Qanon-adjacent ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy theory.
On Tuesday, Mr Morrison’s office released a statement saying the PM denounced “the comments in the strongest possible terms”. On Wednesday, asked at a press conference, Mr Morrison described the comments as “appalling” but also took a swipe at media for reporting them.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to promote what they’re saying by constantly drawing it to people’s attention. I’m not seeking to do that. I don’t agree with them,” he said.
But Mr Christensen remains defiant – with no apology – and is instead backing in his statements.
In a post on his Telegram channel on Tuesday afternoon, he described the scrutiny as “political elitist handwringing” and “hyperventilation”. However, he pointed out that he did not compare Auschwitz to COVID quarantine – the parallel was drawn by Jones, and Mr Christensen laughed at it.
Then, about 10pm on Tuesday, Mr Christensen posted a video to Telegram of what appeared to be his face superimposed over Gibson’s, in the famous battle scene of Braveheart. In it, Gibson’s character, William Wallace, rides a horse in front of Scottish troops while saying “they’ll never take our freedom”.
Mr Christensen posted the video along with the comment “how I feel after 24 hours of non-stop criticism for opposing lockdowns, vaccine mandates and medical segregation”.
But sometime late on Wednesday morning, the video was deleted. The New Daily took a screenshot of the video at 10.13pm on Tuesday.
Nationals MPs Darren Chester and Michael McCormack have been strongly critical of Mr Christensen’s comments. Deputy PM and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce posted a carefully-worded Twitter statement that “any parallel of domestic policy with the abomination which was the Holocaust requires an immediate rebuke”, adding that he had “asked Mr Christensen to be far more aware of any platform he speaks on”.
Mr Joyce has previously said he cannot control Mr Christensen and warned the government against “prodding the bear”, suggesting the Dawson MP would quit early and force a byelection.
Labor’s shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers claimed the government was “chock-full of whack jobs”, while senator Murray Watt said Mr Morrison had “has lost control of his government”.
Labor senator Katy Gallagher called Mr Christensen’s comments dangerous and claimed he was “promoting violence against Australians working overseas”.
“I note the Prime Minister’s out talking about trolls on the internet. Some of the most dangerous people on the internet at the moment in terms of the health of Australians are three members of his own government,” she told the ABC.
Last week in Parliament, Mr Christensen referenced murderous dictators Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot in a speech criticising vaccine mandates.
On his Telegram account, with 26,000 followers, Mr Christensen has also shared content highly critical of Australia’s quarantine facilities. On December 4, shortly after he shared a link to his Infowars interview, Mr Christensen posted a graphic describing quarantine camps as “a government-run facility which you will be forcibly taken to by police and/or military and detained without trial”.
On December 5, he posted a link to a YouTube video from a British media site that described the Howard Spring quarantine facility as an “internment camp”. Mr Christensen also published a comment describing quarantine as “incarceration without a sentence”.
The rhetoric was echoed by fellow Coalition member Alex Antic, who joins Mr Christensen in opposing vaccine mandates.
Senator Antic, who has not been double-vaccinated, was taken into hotel quarantine on his return to South Australia last week. This week, he appeared on the podcast of Steve Bannon – one-time adviser to former US president Donald Trump – to claim he was being “detained” in Adelaide.
Senator Antic claimed Australia was “in a dark place” and that the government had “sacrificed liberty to the altar of COVID paranoia”. He also said Australia needed to “drain the billabong”, a riff on Mr Trump’s “drain the swamp” slogan.
“Drain the billabong” was also a short-lived slogan adopted by Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, following Mr Trump’s 2016 presidential election victory.