Stephanie Dalzell, ABC, January 12, 2021
Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack has rebuffed calls to speak to members of the Government about sharing misinformation online, including about coronavirus health advice.
Mr McCormack said he supported free speech and did not believe in the type of censorship demonstrated in the United States.
Social media giants Twitter and Facebook have suspended President Donald Trump’s accounts after last week’s riots at the US Capitol, citing a “risk of further incitement of violence” from his posts and his past breaches of the company’s policies.
In Australia, Government backbenchers George Christensen and Craig Kelly have previously been criticised for spreading views that hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment for coronavirus.
Mr Christensen has also posted in support of Mr Trump’s claims about the election results and that “masks and lockdowns don’t work”.
When asked if the pair should be counselled about their posts, Mr McCormack said he did not believe they should.
“Facts are sometimes contentious, and what you might think is right somebody else might think is completely untrue,” Mr McCormack said.
“That is part of living in a democratic country.”
The Acting Prime Minister also doubled down on remarks he made comparing the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests to last week’s riot on the Capitol, saying “any form of violence” should be condemned.
Mr McCormack, who is acting Prime Minister while Scott Morrison is on leave, was on Monday asked whether US President Donald Trump should be removed from office for fuelling the violent scenes.
“It is unfortunate that we have seen the events at the Capitol Hill that we’ve seen in recent days, similar to those race riots that we saw around the country last year,” Mr McCormack told the ABC’s RN program.
The death of George Floyd — a black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Mr Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes — prompted hundreds of protests across the globe against police brutality and institutional racism, some of which ended in violence.
Five people died in the riots on Capitol Hill, which unfolded after Mr Trump addressed thousands of protesters, repeating unfounded claims that the contest was stolen from him due to widespread election fraud and irregularities.
Human rights and community groups have condemned the “deeply offensive” comments and demanded that Mr McCormack withdraw them.
Mr McCormack’s attempt to compare those protests with the US Capitol riots drew immediate outrage from Amnesty International, with the human rights organisation’s Indigenous Rights Lead Nolan Hunter saying Mr McCormack “must be condemned in the strongest terms”.
“The Acting Prime Minister must immediately withdraw his deeply offensive comments that compared the violent attacks on the US Capitol to the historic and important Black Lives Matters movement that swept the world last year,” Mr Hunter said.
“To call the Black Lives Matters movement ‘race riots’ proves that the Acting Prime Minister ignored the incredibly important message that it shared.”
The Aboriginal Legal Service also criticised the comparison, tweeting: “It’s a disappointment (to say the least) to see the Acting PM mischaracterise our fight for justice as ‘race riots’.
“Our demand that Black lives be valued and defended against state-sanctioned violence is in no way comparable to attempts to violently overthrow an election.”
On Tuesday, Mr McCormack rejected their calls.
“Amnesty International and others, and I appreciate there are others who are being bleeding hearts about this and confecting outrage, but they should know those lives [lost during the Black Lives Matter protests] matter too,” he said.
“All lives matter, people shouldn’t have to go to a protest and lose their life.”
Labor’s Chris Bowen condemned Mr McCormack’s comments and said he and the Government should denounce the misinformation spread by Mr Kelly and Mr Christensen.
“Craig Kelly is a menace and at every turn, Scott Morrison and now Michael McCormack, Acting Prime Minister, have failed to call him out,” he said.
“They’ve hidden behind weasel words of freedom of speech.”
Last year, Mr McCormack came under criticism during an episode of Q&A, when he falsely claimed the second coronavirus outbreak in Victoria was because of a Black Lives Matter rally in Melbourne.