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Coalition members George Christensen and Alex Antic appear on far-right US chat shows

·6 min read
<span>Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

Acting Nationals leader condemns Christensen for appearing on Alex Jones’s InfoWars while Antic is a guest on Steve Bannon’s War Room show


The Morrison government’s authority over its own members has been challenged with Nationals MP George Christensen and Liberal senator Alex Antic fronting far-right US online programs to criticise Australia’s Covid response.

On Tuesday, the acting Nationals leader, David Littleproud, counselled and condemned Christensen over his comments on American conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s online show InfoWars, aspects of which Scott Morrison also condemned.

But as colleagues rounded on Christensen for encouraging people to protest outside Australian embassies against the loss of freedom during the coronavirus pandemic, Antic appeared from hotel quarantine on former Trump advisor Steve Bannon’s War Room: Pandemic.

Antic accused state governments of a “drift into authoritarianism”, arguing that an “unelected health bureaucracy” had sent him to what was essentially a “detention facility”.

“We need to drain the billabong in this country … it’s as simple as that.”

Antic was taken into hotel quarantine on Thursday evening for 14 days, which is a requirement for unvaccinated travellers. That called into question assurances Morrison had given the public that the senator was “double dose vaccinated”.

Related: Alex Jones liable for damages over Sandy Hook shooting claims, judge rules

In the 35-minute InfoWars video, which Christensen shared with his followers on Monday, the Nationals MP laughed as Jones compared Australia’s Covid-19 quarantine facilities with Auschwitz because they both had “big fences”.

“The rest of the free world, please stand with us, please support us, and every time we see people out there protesting, whether it be in front of an embassy or elsewhere, protesting for our rights in Australia, it really does embolden the patriots, the people who are for freedom in our country to stand up,” Christensen said.

In a statement, Morrison on Tuesday afternoon said: “I denounce the comments in the strongest possible terms.”

“The Holocaust was an evil abomination. Respect for the victims requires that it never be referenced in such a trivial and insensitive manner,” the prime minister said.

Christensen, who announced in April he will retire at the 2022 election, is a growing problem for the Coalition. The MP crossed the floor on government legislation in the final sitting fortnight of parliament and called for civil disobedience in response to vaccine mandates.

The Nationals leader, Barnaby Joyce, has previously said he won’t demand Christensen desist from contradicting public health advice about the effectiveness of masks and lockdowns because the Coalition governs with a “thin margin” and if you “start prodding the bear, you’re going to make the situation worse”.

But on Tuesday the acting leader, Littleproud, said: “I condemn his comments and I think it was an error of judgment for him to go on that program.”

“We want to work constructively with George, but know that there are limits and there are boundaries that we as federal politicians have to adhere to.

“He is a respected member of the party room, and we want to have a conversation with him about respecting the party room back.”

Littleproud later confirmed he’d spoken to Christensen “about his judgment on going on the show” and said the MP agreed with “some of my comments”. “He understands both my position and the views of the party room.”

The former Nationals leader, Michael McCormack, told ABC TV that Christensen’s comments were “reprehensible”, “needed to be called out” and were “embarrassing” to the Nationals.

McCormack said instead of saying how Australia had “protected lives and livelihoods” during the pandemic, Christensen “chose to condemn our country, he chose to rubbish our country on the world stage, and for that I think he should be condemned”.

“[Embassy staff] need all the protection, all the safeguards they can get, they don’t need an MP encouraging people who aren’t even Australians, protesting up the front of those embassies.”

McCormack said Joyce “needs to call this out as soon as he is able to”.

Joyce, who is in London, subsequently posted on Twitter: “I have contacted him [Christensen] twice in the night to affirm that any parallel of domestic policy with the abomination which was the holocaust requires an immediate rebuke.”

“I have asked Mr Christensen to be far more aware of any platform he speaks on and to ask himself of the history of those platforms and if participation on it is wise,” Joyce wrote.

Nationals MP Darren Chester also weighed in to distance himself from “conspiracy theories, lack of respect and ill-informed comments”.

In November, Jones was found liable for damages in lawsuits brought by parents of children killed in the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, over Jones’s claim the massacre was a hoax.

In a 2019 court deposition, Jones described his conspiracy thinking as a kind of mental disorder, blaming his false statements about the massacre on “psychosis”.

Joyce, who is in the UK, initially responded to the controversy through a spokesperson stating: “A conversation has been had with Mr Christensen. While the deputy prime minister doesn’t agree with the comments made, Mr Christensen has the right to say what he believes.”

On Tuesday, Labor MP Andrew Leigh called on Morrison to condemn Christensen’s comments.

Leigh later slammed Joyce for his muted response, accusing him of being unable “to really recognise he’s the deputy prime minister”.

“Once you’re playing footsies with Alex Jones, one of the great conspiracy theorists of the age, you’ve really got to worry about what George Christensen is doing,” he said.

Related: Alex Jones liable for damages over Sandy Hook shooting claims, judge rules

“You can be sure if it was somebody on the left of politics, Scott Morrison would be out there quick as a flash having a go at them, saying that they ought to be denounced.

“But when it’s George Christensen … people like that seem to get a free pass from the prime minister.”

In November, when Labor urged Morrison to directly condemn Christensen, the prime minister replied that he condemned “any encouragement, any encouragement whatsoever by any person in any place regarding acts of civil disobedience”.

In July, Morrison defended Christensen for his anti-lockdown activism in Queensland, stating Australians have “free speech” and can attend rallies where public health orders allow.

Later on Tuesday, Christensen wrote on his Telegram channel that the criticism had been “fake news”, “political elitist handwringing” and “such hyperventilation”.

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