Australia

Barnaby Joyce defends George Christensen and his support for anti-lockdown protests

Barnaby Joyce has defended one of his Nationals colleagues for attending an anti-lockdown protest and supporting huge rallies in Melbourne and Sydney.

The deputy prime minister said George Christensen was within his rights to attend a legal rally in Queensland and voice support for the other demonstrations, which breached public health orders.

Mr Christensen argued on social media civil disobedience was moral and the only response to laws that restricted freedom.

But there are concerns about the federal politician endorsing behaviour that could lead to more coronavirus infections and longer lockdowns.

Mr Joyce said he did not agree with the backbencher’s comments or actions but refused to condemn them.

“Let’s be real about this – everybody has the liberty to say what they want,” he told ABC radio on Monday.

“What do you want me to do, to go up there without knowing he was going to say it, to tackle him? Would that actually assist the process by reinforcing the sense you don’t have the liberty to say what you like?”

He said people were capable of listening to a range of views and determining for themselves which ones they agreed with.

Mr Joyce said his own view was that Australia’s aggressive suppression strategy was critical to protecting people’s lives from coronavirus.

But he would not be drawn on whether it was appropriate for a member of parliament and the government to publicly campaign against the policy.

“What you’re implying there is that any person in the parliament has the capacity to tell George Christensen what to do,” Mr Joyce said.

“I mean, are you proposing that we lock him up? Then you’re no further ahead than I am.”

Mr Christensen holds significant sway within the Morrison government.

The coalition has a one-seat majority in the House of Representatives and cannot afford to offend any of its members.

Mr Joyce also relied on his support to seize control of the National Party in a recent leadership spill.

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