Rebel backbencher George Christensen will step down from his role on a parliamentary trade and investment committee after sustained pressure following anti-vax statements.
Mr Christensen said he will advise the Speaker of the House his intention to stand down as the committee’s chair – a role that earns him extra money on top of his backbencher salary – when he returns to Parliament House on February 7.
“(It’s) a decision of my own making and not a demand or request from any third party,” he said in a social media post on Wednesday evening which announced his move.
But it came hours after Prime Minister Scott Morrison was again forced to distance himself from the Queensland MP’s comments on vaccination.
Mr Christensen urged parents not to get their children vaccinated and has been condemned by health officials and senior government ministers, with the prime minister labelling them as “dangerous”. Mr Christensen’s latest anti-vaccination remarks were made in a podcast interview with American virologist Robert Malone, who has been banned from social media platforms for COVID-19 misinformation.
During a media conference on Wednesday, Mr Morrison urged parents not to listen to Mr Christensen’s views.
“I think they’re unwise views, I think they’re dangerous views. I don’t think parents should be listening to them,” he said.
“I don’t think anyone should be paying attention to him on this issue.”
Mr Morrison stopped short of calling for Mr Christensen to be expelled from the coalition party room.
“Australia is a free country, you can’t go locking people up for what they say as Australians,” he said. “His views are not the government’s views… I can only encourage those to simply ignore him.”
Mr Christensen, who is resigning from politics at the next election, has often made anti-vaccination remarks during the pandemic. Previously in parliament he likened COVID-19 restrictions to the regimes of dictators such as Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot.
Mr Morrison has spoken to Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce about Mr Christensen’s comments.
Speaking to reporters in Brisbane, Mr Joyce said Mr Christensen’s comments were not backed up by medical experts.
“It’s quite obvious it’s at odds with the position held by the appointed medical authorities on this very important issue, and that is something taken into account,” he said. His comments are not backed up by medical workers in that field.”
Labor health spokesman Mark Butler said the comments from Mr Christensen were outrageous and urged the government to pull him into line.
“This guy is not a fringe commentator. George Christensen is a menace to pubic health,” he said.
“He’s a danger to the public health of our children, no less, and there should be no place for him in the government partyroom.”
Original content from Comms Room. Note: Content has been edited for style and length.
Nina Alvarez is a Content Producer for Healthcare Channel. Her interests include writing, particularly about the healthcare sector and the many ways it can improve to further benefit people from all walks of life.