Labor’s shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers has blasted prime minister Scott Morrison for wanting to “embrace” the violent politics of anti-vaccine protests, accusing him of trying to divide the country for political gain.
After mass “freedom” rallies held across the country on Saturday, Chalmers said Morrison’s failure to strongly condemn the violent threats seen in Victoria last week was a “dangerous game with dangerous consequences”.
“What the prime minister is doing is he’s trying to divide us and he’s trying to diminish that collective effort and undermine all of the good and all of the progress that Australians have made together,” Chalmers told the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday.
“He does that with this dangerous, dog-whistling doublespeak that we see from him. He does it by claiming credit for high vaccination rates without taking responsibility for the measures that are necessary to get those rates up.
“And I think what’s especially troubling to mainstream Australia is the rest of us see the kind of violent politics that has emerged in the United States in the last couple of years and we want to reject it, and the prime minister seems to want to embrace those kind of violent views and violent threats.
“If he wants to keep playing this dangerous game with dangerous consequences, then the country doesn’t just have an opportunity to throw him out of the election, they’ve got an obligation to do that.”
Chalmers said he condemned “without reservation, without qualification” the threats being made in the anti-government protests, which have included calls for premiers to be hanged and protesters in Melbourne parading with gallows and nooses.
But the broadside from Chalmers came as the employment minister, Stuart Robert, doubled down on remarks made by Morrison last week. Morrison’s comments were seen as siding with the protesters, saying governments should not be “telling Australians what to do”.
“The Doherty modelling makes it clear – and it’s locked in place with the national plan – that at 80% we want freedoms to open up,” Robert told Sky News.
“Let business determine their own risks and let’s get governments out of their lives.”
While Morrison told reporters on Thursday he had “no tolerance” for violent protests, he also appeared to sympathise with their anti-government message, saying it was time for “Australians to take their lives back”.
“Over the last couple of years, governments have been telling Australians what to do,” Morrison said.
“Now there has been a need for that as we have gone through the pandemic, but the time is now to start rolling all of that back.
“We now have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, we have one of the strongest economies to come through the pandemic and we have one of the lowest fatality rates from Covid in the world.
“Businesses can make their own choices on the law but we aren’t about telling Australians what to do.”
The issue of vaccine mandates is expected to overshadow the final sitting week of parliament for the year, with at least two government senators withholding their vote from government legislation over the issue.
Morrison has said vaccine mandates are a state matter, despite backing the requirement in the aged care sector, and is resisting calls from his own MPs to remove a federal indemnity for the vaccines which they claim underpins the mandates.
Clive Palmer’s United Australia party and One Nation are also tapping into the anti-vaccination movement, attending rallies in all capital cities and vowing to make the next election a referendum on “freedom”.
The former Liberal MP and now UAP leader, Craig Kelly, told a Sydney protest on Saturday that Australia was now a “prison camp”.
“On my watch, I am not going to stand by and let this happen and neither are you guys. We have got to protect our kids, that’s our first priority.”