Australian politicsNationals MP is one of a number of rightwing politicians seeking to capitalise on unrest generated by Covid restrictions
Scott Morrison has sought to defend government MP George Christensen for anti-lockdown activism in Queensland, stating Australians have free speech and can attend rallies where public health orders allow, while condemning rally-goers in Sydney as selfish.
In addition to attending a lawful rally in Mackay, Christensen has appeared to endorse the rally in locked-down Melbourne, arguing on social media that civil disobedience was moral and the only response to laws that restrict freedom.
Christensen is one of a number of rightwing politicians seeking to capitalise on social unrest generated by lockdowns responding to the Delta strain outbreak 18 months into the global Covid-19 pandemic and months before the entire Australian population will be offered a vaccine by the end of 2021.
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Former Liberal MP turned independent, Craig Kelly, addressed the Brisbane protest, which did not breach health orders, by telephone while One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts recorded a video message blasting the social impacts of lockdowns.
Liberal Democrat candidate, John Ruddick, filmed himself at the unlawful Sydney rally, later boasting on social media he had been fined $1,000 for his attendance.
The rallies have been promoted by Reignite Democracy Australia, a group that shot to prominence during Victorias second wave lockdown for its anti-mask mandate and anti-lockdown stance.
On Saturday, Christensen invited freedom lovers to attend in Mackay, later posting images of himself at the rally and addressing a crowd he claimed numbered more than 200.
On Saturday, Nationals MP George Christensen invited freedom lovers to attend a rally in Mackay, where he addressed a crowd he claimed numbered more than 200. Photograph: George Christensen Facebook
Christensen posted footage of the Sydney rally with the caption: Looks like thousands upon thousands of Sydneysiders are protesting against the removal of freedoms under the guise of the pandemic.
In a separate post, he said civil disobedience eventually becomes the only response to laws that restrict freedom. This is what weve seen in Melbourne today.
That post also included an image quoting Martin Luther King that one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.
Morrison told reporters in Canberra that rallies in Sydney and other locked down cities were selfish and self-defeating because it wont end the lockdown sooner. It will only risk the lockdowns running further.
Morrison accused people who attended the rally in Sydney of putting themselves at risk, those around them at risk, particularly the police at risk.
Asked about Christensen, Morrison said that as for other parts of the country that arent in lockdown, well, theres such a thing as free speech.
And Im not about to be imposing those sort of restrictions on peoples free speech. In Queensland, there are no lockdowns.
Morrison said the rally attended by Christensen was very different to the one in Sydney and it would not be accurate to compare them.
When Morrisons attention was drawn to Christensens comments about civil disobedience, he added: I dont support any suggestion that people should gather like they did in Sydney yesterday, whatsoever.
Kelly told Guardian Australia he was working in his office in Sutherland, south Sydney, all day but did address the protest in Brisbane via telephone.
Kelly said that NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian was responsible for the Sydney protest because she had arrogantly taken away peoples freedom to earn a living, even in open-air building sites, without any evidence that this will achieve anything, despite the health advice backing lockdowns as a way to prevent coronavirus spread and further deaths.
When they parrot on about denying people their freedom to earn a living until some time to October its a wonder that a million people didnt take to the streets, Kelly said.
Ruddick, a longtime Liberal member who is now running for the Liberal Democrats in Warringah, posted a video of himself at the Sydney rally suggesting he hopes that it will triple in size next week.
On Sunday morning Ruddick posted that he had been fined $1,000 for his attendance:
Just had two courteous police officers at my door to advise I will be getting a $1,000 fine for attending the Sydney Freedom Rally.
No problem – I’ll frame it and put it on the wall.
John Ruddick (@JohnRuddick2) July 25, 2021
In an email on Saturday evening the Liberal Democrats urged its supporters to help us grow the anti-lockdown movement.
The email, by policy officer Rob Cribb, said state governments seem to have no interest in rewinding the lockdown laws or travel restrictions. These are continued human right abuses.
The next step should be the unification of a group that believes in freedom of fear; of private property over socialism; and of voluntary interaction over coercion.
Ruddick told Guardian Australia the Liberal Democrats had nothing to do with organising what he acknowledged was an illegal rally in Sydney.
Ruddick said he had attended after learning about the rally on Friday, and intended to keep his distance until he saw the police were allowing the protest.
I was a normal citizen in the rally. I made a video and said lets triple it but I said that when I assumed police were fine with it. I retract that, I dont think there will be another.
Ruddick argued zero Covid is an impossibility so Australia should give up on lockdowns. We have to choose the least worst option one is to keep persisting in growing $1.2tn of debt, smashing small business and increasing social tension, or we just deal with it.
In his recorded video message, Roberts accused state governments of locking people up even when theyre healthy and creating a mental health catastrophe for generations and arresting protesters fighting for our freedom.
In response to Berejiklian urging people to report anyone who may have attended the rally, Roberts said this was one of most unAustralian things of all asking us to become dobbers to turn in dissenters who are standing against the regime of oppression.
Guardian Australia contacted Christensen for comment.
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