It’s the new black among anti-vaxxers — a magical phrase that they believe will help them overcome the reason and evidence supporting the benefits of vaccination by tapping into obscure constitutional powers.
In September, the government began a Senate inquiry into its “no jab, no play” bill, despite it being non-controversial and backed by Labor and the Greens (in fact it passed the Senate today, unamended, after the committee reported on November 11). The inquiry hearing — chaired, for his sins, by ACT senator Zed Seselja — in Brisbane three weeks ago descended into farce as anti-vaxxers like Meryl Dorey queued up to attack vaccination and argue No Jab, No Play was a conspiracy by Rupert Murdoch to impose compulsory vaccination. When Greens leader Richard Di Natale asked why the likes of Dorey were referring to the “Australian Vaccination Network”, a name they have been legally obliged to no longer use, he was accused by one Brett Smith of being part of the Murdoch conspiracy, perhaps the first time that anyone has proposed a link between Murdoch and the party that his newspaper The Australian said needed to be “destroyed”.
Such antics aside, the committee received around 750 form letters from anti-vaxxers, including over 700 of them in one particular form:
“YOUR DUTY: As my elected representative, you have been entrusted to execute My Will in accordance with your duty of office and the Australian Constitution. The purpose of Government is to create and administer laws and services, on behalf of and in accordance with the WILL of the people it represents. I can not conscientiously vote for anyone that is not willing to represent the people’s will on any issue
“It is MY WILL that any current legislation related to the No Jab No Pay campaign be repealed and that any future legislation related to coerced vaccination through remuneration or discrimination be abandoned …”
The letter contains a bizarre argument that “no jab, no play” amounts to unconstitutional “civil conscription”, but is more interesting for the repetition of “MY WILL” — in capitals, of course — as a kind of magical incantation to force the committee to do what the anti-vaxxers want.
The “MY WILL” myth isn’t an invention of the anti-vaxxers: they’ve taken it from a monarchist who invented it for a very different purpose. Expert on anti-vaxxers and blogger Reasonable Hank — who has done so much to expose the dangerous tactics of these crazies — showed Crikey the source: a booklet on the website of the Toowoomba branch of Australians For Constitutional Monarchy by one Arthur Chresby.
Chresby was briefly a Liberal politician in the 1950s, holding the Queensland seat of Griffith, although he seems to have drifted further to the right in the following decades. His “My Will” booklet in essence argues that a voter can only expect a politician to pay heed to their wishes if the voter makes it perfectly clear what they want — thus he advises:
“[Y]ou have a lawful duty and obligation to keep your Members and Senators fully informed about what your WILL is upon any issue or matter that comes before them in their Houses of Parliament, or that should come before them.
“It is only when you fulfil that lawful duty and obligation that your member and Senators can properly fulfil their judicially defined function and duty in their houses of Parliament. If you do not fulfil your lawful duty and obligation, if you do not keep your Members and Senators fully informed of your will on any issue, then you cannot blame them for what they do.”
Chresby proposed a form letter for voters interested in making sure politicians understood what they wanted, which he argued could somehow free an MP or senator from party discipline. “Politicians,” he wrote, “secure in the knowledge of written electorate support, possessed of the written “MY WILL” is freed from control of the party manipulators, for the party has lost control over his voice and vote on all issues on which the electorate has expressed its WILL.” Moreover, Chresby thought the Queen could intervene at any time to dismiss governments based on the expressed will of voters.
This is all the harmless eccentricity of an ancient monarchist fuddy-duddy, but anti-vaxxers appear to have interpreted it as providing them with a magic formula that gains them a privileged position in policymaking. Just quote the words “MY WILL” at politicians and they’re obliged to pay particular heed to whatever comes next.
It’s not quite as extreme as, say, the “Freemen on the Land” myth many in the US adhere to, based on the notion that a citizen can opt out of statutory law they have not consented to and thereby free themselves from the jurisdiction of courts, or the “sovereign citizen” movement, which insists the United States is illegitimate. But it aptly reflects a worldview in which evidence and logic are disregarded and conspiracy theories are seen all around. For such people, assuming a phrase plucked from legal obscurity would exert some mysterious talismanic political power against the sinister forces arrayed against them makes perfect sense.
If only it was “THEIR WILL” that kids didn’t die and get sick because of their profound stupidity.
Correction: This piece originally referred to “Greg Smith” as attending the Brisbane hearing; this has been corrected to Brett Smith.