The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has come under fire in parliament for falsely claiming he told the opposition leader Anthony Albanese that he was travelling to Hawaii during the black summer bushfires.
Amid fierce parliamentary debate centred on Morrison’s honesty and his shifting rhetoric on vaccine mandates, Labor revived its attack on the prime minister’s infamous overseas holiday taken with his family at Christmas time in 2019.
The trip became controversial after the prime minister’s office refused to reveal where Morrison was holidaying at the time, and briefed journalists that reports he was in Hawaii were wrong.
In question time on Monday, Labor’s Fiona Phillips – whose electorate of Gilmore was being ravaged by the bushfires at the time – asked Morrison why his office had “told journalists he was not on holiday in Hawaii … when it wasn’t true?”
Morrison then claimed he had texted Albanese about his plans.
“I can only speak to what I have said. As the leader of the opposition will know because I texted him from the plane when I was going on that leave, and told him where I was going, and he was fully aware of where I was travelling with my family,” Morrison said.
The response provoked fury from Albanese, who used a personal explanation following question time to explain to the house that he had been misrepresented.
“That is not true. On the 15th of December 2019 at 9.44pm the prime minister did text me saying he was going on leave,” Albanese said.
“He did not tell me where he was going. He said he was going with his family. I kept that text message confidential, as you do, with private text messages between private phones,” Albanese said.
“On the Friday he disclosed it in an interview with 2GB that he had texted me and that was the first time that that became public. But at no stage did he tell me where he was going.”
Morrison responded, saying: “Where I was going, was on leave,” but was later forced to correct the record.
“I want to confirm what the leader of the opposition said that in that text I did not tell him the destination of where I was going on leave with my family,” Morrison said.
“I simply communicated to him that I was taking leave. When I was referring to he knew where I was going and was fully aware I was travelling with my family, what I meant was, that we were going on leave together.
“I know I didn’t tell him where we were going, because Mr Speaker, that is a private matter where members take leave and I know I didn’t tell him the destination, nor would I.”
Albanese accused Morrison of divulging the private text exchange between the pair, and doubling down on the false assertion that Albanese knew where he was going.
“The problem for this prime minister is that he has this character trait whereby he says whatever is convenient at the time, regardless of what the facts are. And it is just extraordinary that he has been prepared to do that,” Albanese told Sky News.
The latest allegation of prime ministerial dishonesty comes after Morrison became embroiled in a war of words with the French prime minister, Emmanuel Macron, over whether he had lied about Australia’s intention to cancel the submarine contract.
Macron sensationally said, “I don’t think, I know”, when asked if Morrison had lied to him about the decision, prompting the release of private text messages between the pair that further damaged relations.
The stoush over the text messages between Morrison and Albanese came as the prime minister was also forced on the backfoot over claims he did not denounce violent protests in Melbourne, and for editing a social media post that removed criticism of the protests.
In response to a question from Labor’s Josh Burns about the edited Facebook post, Morrison said the suggestion he had given “comfort to extremists” was a “complete falsehood”.
“I was very clear in denouncing those things, and the suggestion I haven’t … is a complete falsehood,” Morrison said.
The prime minister was also challenged over his support for vaccine mandates in NSW after he said last week that people should be allowed to “get a cup of coffee in Brisbane without showing their vaccination certificates”.
“Is the prime minister aware that exactly the same health orders apply in Sydney? If people want to get a cup of coffee, they have to show their vaccination certificate. Does he also support that?” Labor’s Jim Chalmers asked.
Morrison said the government’s position on vaccine mandates “applies right across the country”.
“We couldn’t be clearer. We support mandatory vaccines for health workers, for aged care workers, for disability workers, Mr Speaker, those who are working with vulnerable people,” Morrison said.
“But when it comes to what happens in somebody’s business, we believe business should make that decision and shouldn’t be told by the government what they should be doing.”
The prime minister has been accused of “double speak” over the issue of vaccine mandates, after he expressed sympathy with the frustrations of protesters, and urged Australians to “take their lives back” from government.
On Monday, Morrison said he did not subscribe to a “binary proposition” that he was either for or against government intervention, saying his position had changed along with changing circumstances.
The final parliamentary sitting fortnight of the year got off to a rocky start for the government on Monday morning after five coalition senators crossed the floor to support a vaccine discrimination bill sponsored by the One Nation senator Pauline Hanson.
Liberal senators Gerard Rennick, Alex Antic, and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells crossed the floor to support the bill, along with Nationals Matt Canavan and Sam McMahon.
Antic and Rennick are denying the government their support in the Senate until Morrison meets a range of demands relating to vaccine mandates and adverse events, hampering the coalition’s ability to pass legislation before parliament rises for the year.