Anti-vaccine and vaccine-sceptic groups and individuals are campaigning, fundraising and and registering to run in the federal election, hoping to capitalise on the interest around vaccines to gain a foothold in Australian politics.
With less than a year to go until the latest date that the federal election can be held, COVID-19 vaccinations are shaping up to be a — if not the — defining issue.
The government is heralding the number of Australians who’ve been vaccinated and the doses procured. Meanwhile, Labor has narrowed in on the stunted rollout (and the lack of quarantine facilities).
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Beyond the rollout, vaccine passports and potential restrictions for those who refuse to be immunised will feature in some way and have already been staked out as important policy decisions to be made. These decisions will no doubt be viewed with both an eye to the science as well as to their electoral impact, with somewhere between 10% and 15% of Australians saying they’ll never get vaccinated.
There are several political figures and groups already vying for the attention of the hyper-engaged, enthusiastic vaccine sceptics. Their positions vary from flirting with anti-vaccine rhetoric to full-blown COVID denialism, but their goal is the same: to win elections and to shape Australia’s politics
Clive Palmer and the United Australia Party
Undeterred by an $83 million failed election bid in 2019, Palmer has signalled his intentions to contest the next election with anti-vaccine messages as a key part of his campaign. The billionaire magnate has been letterboxing and running radio advertisements with misleading messages about the safety of vaccines. With a request to change the party’s name and teasing an announcement in late August, Palmer is poised to spend big to make another tilt at Parliament on the back of vaccine hesitancy.
The Informed Medical Options Party
The party formerly known as the Involuntary Medical Objectors (Vaccination/Fluoride) Party has been active in organising the anti-vaccine, anti-lockdown protests since the start of the pandemic. It ran candidates in the Queensland state election, in a state byelection last week, and is looking for candidates for the federal election.
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation
For years, Hanson has toed the line of not being explicitly anti-vaccine while also adopting messaging used by anti-vaccine campaigners. In the lead-up to the 2017 Western Australian state election, she declined to say that children should be vaccinated but later noted that her children had been given their shots. Earlier this year, she falsely claimed the COVID-19 vaccine had killed 210 Australians. Hanson has been vocal opposing vaccine passports or other restrictions placed on unvaccinated Australians.
Meanwhile, her faithful Senate companion and long-time conspiracy theorist Malcolm Roberts has gone further, focusing on vaccine scepticism as one of his major political issues.
Reignite Democracy Australia
This new party is an anti-vaccine, anti-mask and COVID denialist group born out of Victoria’s 2020 lockdowns that has links to mainstream conservative politicians. The group’s leader, Monica Smit, has been extremely active organising anti-lockdown protests and has shown a knack for channelling the chaotic energy of these online communities into action, claiming to have submitted the party’s registration to the AEC and fundraising tens of thousands of dollars for campaign material and staff.
Great Australia Party
Former One Nation senator Rod Culleton’s newest party gained headlines when it recruited conspiracy theory superstar Pete Evans as a candidate. Its policies take cues from anti-vaxxers, men’s rights activists and the sovereign citizen movement. It has, however, faced a recent setback: the AEC has threatened to deregister it because it’s unable to prove it has 500 members.
Addicted to posting about disproved and unproven COVID-19 vaccine treatments, the former Liberal Party member for Hughes has increasingly embraced anti-vaccine rhetoric. Kelly says he is contesting the next election as an independent — despite being linked to others in this list. His candidacy will test whether a mainstream candidate with high name recognition and a large social media following who embraces fringe ideas can win a seat in the House of Representatives.
Fringes of the Coalition
While the prime minister has at times hinted at mandatory vaccines and vaccine passports, there are members of the party who have shown themselves less enthusiastic about such ideas. Figures such as George Christensen, Alex Antic, Eric Abetz, Matt Canavan and Gerard Rennick have all flirted with messages and policies popular with anti-vaxxers, including opposing vaccine passports and raising concerns about vaccine safety.