Politics

Scott Morrison denies double speaking to extremists but says he feels for frustrated Australians | Scott Morrison

Scott Morrison has defended his response to Victorian anti-lockdown protests but warned that while he has no sympathy for “violence” he has sympathy for those who “have had a gutful of governments telling what to do”.

The prime minister told reporters on Friday that he had been “very clear in denouncing any violence, threats or intimidation”, responding to suggestions from federal Labor and Daniel Andrews that he had failed to unequivocally denounce violence as “completely false”.

On Thursday Morrison said disputes needed to be ventilated respectfully “no matter how frustrated people might be” but also declared it was time for the governments of Australia to allow people to make their own choices, urging Australians to “take their lives back”.

 Scott Morrison says governments should let Australians ‘take their lives back’ – video
Scott Morrison says governments should let Australians ‘take their lives back’ – video

Morrison was then accused by the Labor frontbencher Ed Husic of seeking to establish “some sort of moral equivalency, like what we saw with Donald Trump at Charlottesville”.

The Victorian government faces civil unrest in Melbourne and alleged death threats over proposed amendments to pandemic laws at the same time as Morrison is campaigning on easing coronavirus restrictions.

On Friday the federal Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, told reporters in Sydney it was “extraordinary” that Morrison had “failed to unequivocally condemn the violent and extreme statements” including “explicit threats”.

“When [Morrison] made some statements saying that was inappropriate, but then went on to speak about people’s frustrations, he only put the second bit up on his Facebook post – thereby eliminating any criticism of this activity,” Albanese said.

“When people marched on the Victorian parliament with gallows, threatening people with being hung, he spoke about how he understands people’s frustration.

“I ask people to think about that, and whether that represents the leadership that this country needs.”

Andrews accused the prime minister of “double speaking to extremists”. On Channel Nine’s Today program, the Victorian premier promised not to engage in “double speak”, adding: “If others choose to do that, that is on them.”

“I am not here to treat you like you’re French, mate,” he said, an apparent reference to Emmanuel Macron’s accusation that Morrison lied to him over cancellation of the $90bn submarine deal.

Morrison responded by claiming he “couldn’t have been clearer about denouncing the violence and the threats and the intimidation. They have no place in Australia’s public policy debate whatsoever.”

He said he had “consistently” referred to the national plan as a “deal with Australians” that when vaccination targets were met “Australians expect governments to step back and for them to step forward”.

“We’re going to keep going with that plan. Australians have earned that. They’ve kept their part of the deal. I assure you that I intend to keep mine.”

Under pressure from the renegade senators Gerard Rennick and Alex Antic, Morrison has begun to dissociate his government from vaccine mandates, despite the commonwealth seeking a vaccination mandate for aged care workers.

On Thursday the Nationals senator Matt Canavan hit out at the Queensland deputy premier, Steven Miles, for describing protesters as a “fringe element”. “Labor is the enemy of the free people of Australia,” Canavan said.

Miles told reporters in Brisbane he didn’t want to give oxygen to “very dangerous views” opposing vaccine mandates.

“First of all – [Morrison] made that statement yesterday where he criticised Queensland [for its mandates] … in Sydney, where you have to be vaccinated to get a cup of coffee. He singles out Queensland while ignoring the fact similar restrictions operate in his home city.”

Miles noted that Morrison required journalists to be vaccinated to attend his press conferences: “Why should a barista in Brisbane be less safe at work than the prime minister at one of his press conferences at home in Sydney?”

Earlier the government leader in the Senate, Simon Birmingham, claimed that the “conga line of Labor premiers” attacking Morrison was “no doubt” coordinated in “a WhatsApp group with Anthony Albanese”.

Asked for evidence, Birmingham told Sky News it “wouldn’t surprise him” but provided none – except a glancing reference to Labor offering to pay content creators on “Chinese TikTok app” for anti-Morrison content.

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Birmingham, a factional leader of the Liberals’ moderates, also rejected criticisms that Morrison had been double speaking to extremists, warning that “exacerbating political fights” might harm Australia’s high vaccination rates by making it a partisan issue.

“I’ve got no doubt … that some of the protesters will have legitimate concerns, and the right to protest is a very valid right in Australia, as it should be in any free and democratic country.

“The behaviour of some of the protesters has been deplorable, reprehensible and deserves condemnation.”

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