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Nationals leader Michael McCormack has brought a personal touch to the role of Acting Prime Minister. Where other right-hand men and women might be content to potter about Canberra until the boss returns from holiday, McCormack has turned Prime Minister Scott Morrison‘s recent absence into a star-making opportunity. Unfortunately, he’s done so by making some truly awful statements, somehow finding the worst possible positions on racial justice, COVID-19 conspiracy theories, and the very nature of truth itself.

Don’t believe us? Here’s a non-exhaustive list of statements made by McCormack in the past few days alone. Show us a more divisive substitute PM, and we’ll show you Barnaby Joyce a liar:

Sunday, January 10: Pre-McCormack

Sunday was Morrison’s last day on the job before jumping on holidays. The PM announced his break in a neat little press release, potentially to avoid another Hawaiian holiday situation. In that release, he stated that McCormack would take over for the week.

In other words: It begins.

Monday, January 11: McCormack Awakens

Speaking at a press conference in Narrabri, New South Wales, McCormack addressed US President Donald Trump’s ban from Twitter and the broader topic of social media censorship. It’s a thorny issue, but McCormack decided to fall into the bush. He implied that Trump should have remained on the platform despite his implicit calls for violence, adding that Australia fought two world wars to protect such speech:

I would say to the people who own Twitter, I’m, you know, all for freedom of speech. This is a country, Australia, that has long prided itself on free speech, on the democratic right to say what you think within, of course, the bounds of decency. We fought two world wars to make sure that freedom of speech is something that is the hallmark of our democracy.

But McCormack also asserted that Twitter should have removed that recent shitpost drawing attention to alleged war crimes by Australian troops:

But I say to the owners of Twitter, if you’re going to take down the comments of someone who is still the American President, you need to think also about the photo, the doctored photo, the doctored image, that shows a soldier, supposedly an Australian Digger, with a child in his arms about to do harm to that child.

Pick one, mate!

He also defended his parliamentary colleague, Liberal National Party MP George Christensen, who has been savaged for repeatedly echoing the same US election conspiracies championed by Trump:

George is larger than life when it comes to some things he writes on social media and good luck to him.

Christensen would become a recurring theme in McCormack’s magical mystery tour of regional NSW and QLD.

Elsewhere, McCormack likened MAGA extremists storming the US Capitol to the Black Lives Matter movement, which he categorised as a string of “race riots”. Here’s what he told ABC Radio National:

It is unfortunate that we have seen the events at the Capitol Hill that we’ve seen in recent days, similar to those race riots that we saw around the country last year.

McCormack also reminded reporters that he was once a journo himself. Weirdly, he didn’t mention the time riot cops were filmed beating Australian reporters in Washington D.C. during a Black Lives Matter protest – let alone any of the Black Americans brutalised by cops in 2020.

Pivoting from social media censorship to whether he’d speak against Trump, McCormack demurred:

But as far as Donald Trump and his presidency is concerned and the last few days of his administration, well, that’s entirely a matter for the United States of America.”

It was a red hot start – but McCormack wasn’t done yet.

Tuesday, January 12: McCormackaissance

With those comments hanging around like a bad smell, the media waited to see if McCormack would recant any of Monday’s outbursts.

The answer would be ‘no’. Take this from his appearance on ABC News Breakfast, in which he deployed the same false equivalence between riled-up White nationalists and Black Lives Matter:

Any form of protest, whether it’s a protest over racial riots*, or indeed what we’ve seen on Capitol Hill in recent days, is condemned and is abhorred.

When asked about Liberal MP Craig Kelly, who has built a considerable Facebook Boomer following on his repeated falsehoods about COVID-19 treatments, McCormack again said the whole idea of social media censorship is preposterous:

Is it right that somebody then decides who gets taken down and who gets left up? I mean, imagine being on that little jury. I wouldn’t want to be on that jury.

News Breakfast host Georgie Tunny gamely pressed McCormack on whether outright lies should be kept online, especially when they’re spouted by authority figures. McCormack decided that was a perfect opportunity to ask whether facts are real at all:

Well, again, I mean, facts sometimes are contentious, aren’t they? And what you may think is right, somebody else might think is completely untrue. And that’s part of living in a democratic country.

Your elected officials talking absolute shit – that’s what democracy is all about, baby.

After venturing into the realm ‘alternative facts’, McCormack returned to literal earth. He encouraged folks in the city to do the same, saying Australia’s soft and pampered unemployed, who lived luxuriously through pandemic lockdowns, should turn to fruit picking and meatworks in the regions:

It’s fun to pick fruit. It’s good and well-paying work to work in meat works and goodness knows we need them… And I say to those people who perhaps have done reasonably well off JobSeeker given the fact that they might have been earning more than what they could ever have dreamt of, it’s time to, you know, perhaps turn those Stan and Netflix off and come out to the regions.

Fruit pickers can earn as little as $3 an hour.

Later in the day, McCormack stepped up his antipathy towards Black Lives Matter. He straight-up said “all lives matter”, a statement so condescending and racially noxious it was once adopted by One Nation. McCormack using the slogan was ignorant at best; at worst, it was a deliberate sledge against Black people fighting against endless police brutality:

There are a lot of people out there who are being bleeding hearted about this, they should know that those lives matter too, all lives matter. People shouldn’t have to go to a protest and lose their lives.

With that bit of racial rhetoric out of the way, McCormack returned to debating the very nature of truth itself, deploying some armchair epistemology to defend Christensen and Kelly:

Well you might look out over there and say the sky is blue and I can see from here it’s grey. You go out from under this rotunda and there are probably blue patches. I mean, there are a lot of subjective things, you know I was asked about a colleague who puts material up on Facebook. Some of what my colleague puts up on Facebook is very much true but people on Twittersphere, they don’t always like it. Well, toughen up I say.

I mean, George Christensen is doing a great job for the North.

Wednesday, January 13: McCormack To The Drawing Board

Perhaps needing some downtime after 48 ignominious hours, McCormack largely stayed away from the press on Wednesday. Instead, he attended the James Cook Cyclone Testing Station in Townsville, QLD, where he presumably heard about the negative impact of blowing hot air.

Morrison returns from his break on January 18, meaning we can expect some more garbage from McCormack in the days to come. At the very least, McCormack has that part of the job down pat.

*PEDESTRIAN.TV first heard this comment as “racial rights” and reported it as such. According to the official transcript provided by McCormack’s office, he said actually said “racial riots”. Make of that what you will.

Image: Graham Denholm / Getty Images (Edited)