Scott Morrison has so little love for the scrutiny of parliament that his government scheduled as few as 10 sitting days before the May election.
Anyone watching the Prayer and Pushback web conference on Friday, a beauty parade of anti-lockdown, anti-vaccination mandate MPs and senators drawn from the crossbench and Coalition backbench, could see why.
In addition to Labor questions on free rapid antigen tests in question time, Friday’s event confirmed Morrison can look forward to a bin fire of pandemic policy dissent when parliament resumes in February.
The One Nation leader, Pauline Hanson, and senator Malcolm Roberts both said they would refuse to vote for Coalition bills until the federal government intervenes to roll back state-based vaccination mandates and border restrictions.
In November, One Nation’s anti-mandate bill attracted five Coalition senators to cross the floor. On Friday, Hanson said Liberals Alex Antic and Gerard Rennick intended to continue their stand not to support government bills, which Rennick confirmed to Guardian Australia.
Minor parties used the event as a curtain-raiser for fresh demands leading into the election, in a bid to win support from voters who feel, despite the surge in Omicron cases, hospitalisations and deaths, that governments have overreacted.
Hanson wants a royal commission into the Covid response (so far so good, more scrutiny couldn’t hurt given the stonewalling of the Senate Covid committee) … because, she says, Australians have been “lied to” about the number of Covid deaths. Oh dear.
The United Australia party leader, former Liberal MP Craig Kelly, was serving Drain the Swamp vibes with his promise to “clean out” government bureaucracies within 24 hours of election.
Then he demanded a bill of rights to stop “tinpot dictators, the premiers, egged on by the PM” from ever taking away freedom again.
The Nationals MP George Christensen, who earned a rare rebuke from Morrison this week for his advocacy against giving children Covid-19 vaccines, promised he would continue to “prod the powerful” after he leaves parliament at the next election.
“I’m not leaving politics … we’re all involved in politics as citizens. I’m going to be in the fray. I was a journalist before I was in politics … I’ll probably step back into that in the future, in some way, shape or form.”
The fearmongering and exaggerations about life-saving vaccines piled up.
Christensen cited “anecdotal but not verified” reports of adverse events in children in Australia before arguing that “one death” from vaccines is too many because “healthy children don’t die of Covid-19”, it’s more like a case of the “sniffles”.
Roberts said people were being injected with vaccines that “can kill them and [are] killing them”. This is despite just 11 deaths linked to Covid-19 vaccines in Australia after 46.1m doses which, along with lockdowns, have given us one of the lowest death rates from Covid in the world.
The Nationals senator Matt Canavan was a relative voice of reason, noting he had received the vaccine and it had helped reduce hospitalisations and deaths. He took aim at Labor for labelling him an anti-vaxxer “for the crime of standing up for others’ rights to work”.
Antic was on hand to warn Australia was “drifting into soft totalitarianism”, reiterating his belief he needed to draw a “line in the sand” by crossing the floor on vaccine mandates.
Antic accused the “mainstream media” of not telling the truth about the Covid pandemic, arguing it was important to develop new platforms to communicate with supporters.
Pat Mesiti, the former Hillsong preacher who organised the event, noted it was supposed to be going live on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram Live. Instagram Live wouldn’t start the broadcast and Facebook shut it down mid-stream.
Christensen said this reinforced the need for supporters to follow him on Gab, Parler and Telegram, and for parliament to support his private member’s bill against de-platforming.
Kelly had come fresh from the parliamentary inquiry into social media which he has used to take Google and Facebook to task over the removal of his party’s videos from YouTube and his ban from Facebook for pushing unproven treatments for Covid-19.
For one section of voters, the election promises to be a contest of narrowcast views about their greatest fears of pandemic politics and continued loss of freedom.
But when parliament resumes, the Star Wars Cantina bar of characters will share a stage with Morrison, and he’ll have to answer for their views and the long stretches of inaction against them.