Cartoonist Michael Leunig has used his popular comic strip to support parents who “stand up to the state” by refusing to vaccinate their children.
On Wednesday, Mr Leunig published a cartoon in Fairfax Media newspapers of a mother and child pursued by flying, sinister-looking syringes, for which he has been widely criticised.
“Some mothers do ‘ave ’em,” the cartoonist wrote above the image.
“They have maternal instincts that contradict what science thinks,” he wrote. “They stand up to the state.”
“A mother’s love may be as great as any new vaccine that man has ever seen,” the cartoon read.
His sentiments directly contradict the overwhelming majority of health experts, who have criticised the growing anti-vaccination movement.
In a statement provided to Buzzfeed Australia, Mr Leunig’s spokesperson clarified he does not necessarily support the anti-vax movement itself, but is more concerned with “human rights”.
“Michael Leunig is in support of the right of individuals to conscientiously refuse vaccination for their children,” the statement said.
“This support does not necessarily indicate a position on vaccination per se, it is primarily a human rights issue that he addresses in his cartoons.
“Michael feels the punitive approach by the government to people of conscientious belief regarding this matter is coercive and unjust, and sets an appalling example to society about how those opposed might be universally regarded and treated.”
Widespread child immunisation is crucial to prevent such diseases as measles, as these injections are useless unless a large enough number of the population is inoculated (varying between 80 and 90 per cent depending on the disease).
Back in 1997, Mr Leunig drew a similar cartoon depicting a mother who listened to her “heart”, declined vaccination and told a doctor to “stick [his] needle up [his] intellect”.
Some health experts have criticised the Abbott government’s recent decision to withhold welfare payments from parents who decline vaccinations.
This “draconian” intervention may further alienate these parents, University of New South Wales public health expert Professor Raina MacIntyre told the ABC.
“Bringing in something draconian like this is not a very good public health strategy,” Professor MacIntyre said.
“There’s been a lot of research done on hardcore conscientious objectors and it’s very hard to change their views.”
So glad I was inoculated against Leunig at a young age.
— Dom Knight (@domknight) April 15, 2015
— Lenore Taylor (@lenoretaylor) April 15, 2015