Australia’s acting prime minister, Michael McCormack, has been accused of embracing Donald Trump-style post-truth politics after he said “facts sometimes are contentious” and refused to rebuke a Coalition MP who said making children wear masks was akin to child abuse.
Labor also criticised McCormack for declaring “all lives matter” as he defended his previous comments comparing the deadly US Capitol siege to Black Lives Matter protests.
Rejecting calls from Amnesty International to retract the comparison, McCormack told reporters on Tuesday: “I appreciate there are a lot of people out there who are being a bit bleeding heart about this, and who are confecting outrage, but they should know that those lives matter too. All lives matter.”
The federal opposition’s health spokesperson, Chris Bowen, said Australians of colour “deserve to know that the government thinks more of them than that, and to have the acting prime minister spout the words ‘all lives matter’, to diminish the Black Lives Matter movement, was beyond disgusting”.
The Greens said on Tuesday that Trump-style politics was “poison to democracy” and if this was the direction the Coalition was heading “it bodes terribly for the future of Australian politics”.
Liberal backbench MP Craig Kelly posted on his Facebook page at 1.40am on Tuesday that the results of a published study into mask-wearing by children during the pandemic showed the impacts were as bad as child abuse.
“What other conclusion can be drawn from this first ever published study, other than that forcing children to wear masks is causing massive physical & psychological harm – that can only be defined as child abuse,” Kelly wrote.
Australian health authorities generally have made exceptions for young children. For example, under the NSW mask mandate, authorities say children 12 years and under are exempt from wearing face masks “but are encouraged to wear masks where practicable”. Children are 12 are also exempt from Brisbane’s mask mandate and were exempt during Victoria’s mask mandate.
The research by a German university found a range of impacts had been reported by children, including suffering headaches and being less cheerful, Kelly said.
International health advice has repeatedly found mask wearing to be an effective way of controlling the spread of Covid-19.
In an interview on the ABC, McCormack answered a question about Kelly spreading misinformation by saying: “Facts are sometimes contentious and what you might think is right, somebody else might think is completely untrue. That is part of living in a democratic country.”
He repeatedly said he was against censorship, when speaking about the posts and the decision to ban the US president, Donald Trump, from social media platforms.
“Is it right that somebody then decides who gets taken down and who gets left up? Imagine being on that little jury. I wouldn’t want to be on that jury. I don’t think we should have that sort of censorship in our society.
“I am not in favour of censorship. I am a former newspaper editor and journalists know that they have the right to free speech.
“There are 102,000 names on the war memorial in Canberra etched into that bronze who fought so we could have a democratic country, so we could speak freely and it is every free born person’s right to uphold that freedom of speech. I do stick by that.”
He would not be drawn on whether it was fair to compare a protest against racial inequality and the death of George Floyd to the uprising by Trump supporters seeking to overturn a fair election, saying both involved violence.
“Any form of violence, any form of protest that ends in death and destruction is abhorred,” he said.
“The United States goes through great change but any form of protest, whether it is a protest over racial riots or what we have seen on Capitol Hill in recent days is condemned and abhorred.
The acting leader of the Australian Greens, Nick McKim, said McCormack’s actions over the past two days were “an attempt to take Australia down the dangerous path of post-truth politics”.
“The facts are simple. The Black Lives Matter movement is a push back against racist policing and politics. In contrast, the Capitol riots were because the far right didn’t want to accept the results of a fair and democratic election,” McKim told Guardian Australia.
The Greens senator said the “cost of the Liberals and Nationals making up their own facts will be the degradation of Australian democracy”, and he said it appeared to be linked to a desire to secure votes at the next federal election from a “rabble of far-right nationalists, racists and conspiracy theorists”.
“Taking up Trump-style politics is poison to democracy,” McKim said. “If this is the direction the Liberal party is heading, it bodes terribly for the future of Australian politics.”
Bowen said “facts are facts” and Australia had “done well through this medical crisis because we’ve listened to the experts, the chief medical officers and the health officers and the TGA”.
“Craig Kelly is a menace, and at every turn, Scott Morrison, and now Michael McCormack, the acting prime minister, have failed to call him out,” Bowen told reporters.
McCormack is acting prime minister this week while Scott Morrison is on leave. The Nationals leader made similar comments about the rioters on Monday.
Morrison last week condemned the rioters over the “terribly distressing” violence and he called for a peaceful transfer of power to election winner Joe Biden. But he refused to be drawn on Trump’s own role in inciting the mob that stormed the US Capitol building.
Morrison also defended his MPs’ right to “freedom of speech” in the context of misinformation about the US election result, including George Christensen’s unfounded claims that Biden benefited from “dodgy votes”.
Kellyanne Conway, a senior aide to Trump, popularised the phrase “alternative facts” when defending press secretary Sean Spicer’s claims about the size of the president’s inauguration crowds in 2017.