Most Australians think Prime Minister Scott Morrison has a duty to publicly denounce colleagues who post misinformation online, according to research released by the Australia Institute on Monday.
In a recent survey of 1,003 Australians, respondents were told that a federal Liberal Party politician had posted misinformation about COVID-19 on social media, including promoting unproven drugs and describing mandatory mask wearing for schoolchildren as “child abuse”.
The Australia Institute asked respondents whether they think Morrison has a responsibility to clearly and publicly criticise the politician and correct the misinformation. Three in four (77%) respondents agreed that Morrison bears that responsibility — including 38% who strongly agreed — while 12% disagreed, including 4% who strongly disagreed.
In a breakdown of political preference, 77% of Coalition voters, 81% of Labor voters, 83% of Greens voters, and 69% of One Nation voters agreed that Morrison has a responsibility to criticise and correct the politician.
While the think tank’s report did not mention any names, the survey question was referring to Liberal MP Craig Kelly, who has repeatedly shared misinformation on his social media accounts. The government has been called out by Labor for refusing to criticise Kelly over his actions.
Ebony Bennett, deputy director at The Australia Institute, said Morrison has been “putting the health of Australians and the health of our democracy at risk” by failing to call out misinformation spread by members of his own government.
“Vaccinating the Australian population against COVID-19 will be one of the largest peacetime operations in Australian history and if MPs who spread misinformation like Craig Kelly have the tacit endorsement of the prime minister it will only jeopardise and undermine the success of the public health effort,” she said.
The survey also questioned respondents on Morrison’s response to outgoing President Donald Trump’s role in inciting the recent insurrection at the US Capitol in Washington DC.
More than half of Australians (56%) said Morrison should criticise Trump, with just 26% stating he should not.
Bennett described the PM’s lack of condemnation of Trump’s role in the riots as “a failure to defend the most basic principles of democracy”.
“As the US has shown, democracy must be actively defended. For years, President Donald Trump has steadily assaulted truth and political norms and many Republicans have been complicit in the President’s efforts to overturn the results of the free and fair election he lost,” she said.
“More than half of Australians think Prime Minister Scott Morrison should join other world leaders including Boris Johnson, Angela Merkel and Justin Trudeau who have criticised or condemned United States President Donald Trump’s role in inciting the insurrection in the US Capitol.”
Morrison had initially described the events as “terribly distressing”, but had stopped short of actually criticising the president.
Following backlash, Morrison on Monday described Trump’s actions as “incredibly disappointing”.