Scott Morrison has hit back after Daniel Andrews accused him of pandering to extremists, saying suggestions he did not condemn violence are ‘false’.
The Prime Minister came under fire from Labor premiers in Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria after he called for an end to vaccine mandates on Thursday.
Mr Andrews also accused him of failing to properly condemn Melbourne protesters who have made death threats against the premier over his proposed laws to manage pandemics.
Scott Morrison (pictured on Friday with his ‘good friend’ NSW Premier Dom Perrottet) has hit back after Daniel Andrews accused him of pandering to extremists
Members of the ‘Vic Freedom Movement’ group protest in Melbourne earlier this month
But Mr Morrison hit back on Friday, saying: ‘I completely and totally and continue to denunciate any violence, any threat, any intimidation.
‘And any suggestion that I have not done that is completely false. I have been completely clear on that issue.’
He said he had no sympathy with violent protesters and anti-vaxxers but added: ‘I have sympathies for Australians who have had a gutful of governments telling what to do over the last two years.’
In a pitch to voters ahead of next year’s election, he added: ‘Governments have to start letting go of all of the controls on people’s lives.
‘And I know, particularly the Labor Party likes interfering in people’s lives. They like putting up people’s taxes. They like governments controlling with more regulation. I get all that. That’s what they do. That’s not what we like to do.’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on a visit to Western Sydney Airport in Sydney on Friday
Mr Morrison again called for states to drop widespread vaccine mandates except in healthcare settings.
‘We said in the rest of the economy, that should be up for businesses to decide. It’s their business and they can decide these issues. We don’t think that Governments should be telling them who should come in and out of their business.’
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet agreed, saying ‘by December 15 in this state, almost every single restrictions will be lifted.’
On Monday protesters in Melbourne gathered around a wooden gallows with an inflatable doll depicting the premier and chanted ‘Kill Dan Andrews, ‘Hang Dan Andrews’ and ‘freedom’ as they demonstrated against new laws to manage Covid.
Mr Morrison did not condemn them until Thursday when he said ‘threats and intimidation has no place in Australia’ – but in the next breath said people are frustrated because governments have been ‘telling Australians what to do’.
The comments prompted anger from Mr Andrews who accused the Prime Minister of pandering to anti-vaxxers to get their votes.
‘I’m not about chasing, through doublespeak, the votes of extremists or their preferences,’ Mr Andrews told Nine’s Today show.
‘It has taken too long for some to call out this sort of violence. They’re sending all sorts of mixed messages and that’s dangerous. What do we want to see? Somebody getting hurt? That’s not leadership.’
Some protesters held three nooses as they rallied against the proposed bill in possible reference to the three crossbench MPs who decide whether the bill passes
Mr Andrews said his relationship with the PM would be ‘a lot better when he stops double speaking to extremists.’
On Thursday Mr Morrison said vaccine mandates to enter pubs and cafes should not be in place after states reach the 80 per cent vaccination threshold.
While NSW will drop vaccine passports on December 15, Queensland will introduce them to enter hospitality venues on December 17 and Victoria has vowed to keep jab requirements in place well into next year.
Mr Morrison, who is under pressure from pro-choice politicians in his party, said the only mandates he supports are for health workers.
In a dig at Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, he said unvaccinated people ‘should be able to go to a get a cup of coffee in Brisbane’.
‘Now it’s time for governments to step back and for Australians to take their life back,’ he said during a visit to the Tooheys brewery in Sydney on Thursday.
Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles hit back at at the prime minister, accusing him of backing ‘dangerous fringe elements’ such as the anti-government protesters in Melbourne.
Western Australia leader Mark McGowan accused Mr Morrison of pandering to anti-vaxxers.
Daniel Andrews has called Scott Morrison a ‘weak leader’ and accused him of ‘double-speaking to extremists’ in a fiery on-air interview
The Victorian premier claimed the prime minister’s comments were a form of thinly-veiled support for far-right protesters who have rallied against his controversial new pandemic laws this week. A demonstrator is pictured with an anti-Daniel Andrews poster last Saturday
‘There should be no walking on both sides of the fence, you condemn it and you support each of us that is trying to get people vaccinated across Australia,’ he said.
‘We can’t have anyone trying to score points with the anti-vaxxers or dog-whistling to them.’
Mr McGowan was forced to close his electorate office earlier this week after staff were sent rape threats from anti-vaxxers.
Over the past two weeks Mr Morrison – who has started an unofficial election campaign – has been touting freedom and criticising state government lockdowns.
Last week he branded Victoria’s lockdowns ‘extreme’ and on Thursday he said: ‘It’s time for governments to step back and let Australians get on with their lives and get their freedoms back.’
Mr Andrews’ new laws, which have passed Victoria’s lower house but are held up in the upper house, would give the premier the power to declare a pandemic for an unlimited period of time even if there are no cases of a virus.
The move would let the health minister make ‘any order’ he deems reasonably necessary’ which could include lockdowns, vaccine mandates, enforced mask-wearing and much more, with fines of up to $454,350 for rule-breakers.
Critics say the proposed laws are an ‘over-reach’ and ‘extreme’.
What are the main concerns with Daniel Andrews’ pandemic bill?
No definition of a pandemic
Broad powers to the Health Minister to make ‘any order’
Reasons for detaining someone not defined
‘Breathtakingly broad’ powers to public officials to enforce laws
Allows orders such as lockdowns to apply to people based on political views or association
Health advice does not have to be published until 14 days after decision
Rules that breach human rights laws may not be invalidated and overturned
Source: Victorian Bar