Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack says he won't apologise for remarks described as deeply offensive and a racial dog-whistle, and defended two of his colleagues spreading misinformation and conspiracies sourced from QAnon groups on social media.
One colleague, Craig Kelly, racked up hundreds of shares on Facebook on Tuesday with false information about an unproven COVID-19 treatment, and wrote that compulsory mask mandates were "child abuse". Another colleague George Christensen attacked Facebook for warning him for posting misinformation about the pandemic.
The backbench pair's Facebook posts are shared, liked and commented on at a volume that rivals that of party leaders who have been trying to convince the public about the safety and necessity of taking the COVID-19 vaccine.
Neither will be counselled by the acting PM, who said he didn't favour censorship and part of living in a democratic country was that people can disagree.
"Facts are sometimes contentious and what you might think is right, somebody else might think is completely untrue," Mr McCormack told an interviewer in the morning.
Later in the day he added: "I can see it's grey, you may see the sky is blue. There's probably blue patches.
"There's a lot of subjective things. 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 the people on Twitter-sphere, they don't always like it. Toughen up, I say."
On his second day leading the Australian government while Scott Morrison is on leave, Mr McCormack reiterated his comparison that the Black Lives Matter protest movement in 2020 and the violent pro-Trump insurrection on the US Capitol last week were both abhorrent.
"The Black Lives Matter protest had cost 19 lives. That's 19 lives that should not have been lost," Mr McCormack told reports on Tuesday. "I'm not going to apologise because I said that violence in any form should not happen from a protest.
"Irrespective of what the agenda of that protest was, the fact is, there was violence, there was destruction, there was uninsured property that business owners then have to deep-dig into their own pockets to rebuild, and then there's lives lost."
Mr McCormack said those lives matter too. "All lives matter," he said, repeating a retort that is used to represent criticism of the Black Lives Matter protests, which he called "race riots", and rejected criticism from human rights groups, including Amnesty International as "bleeding hearts and confecting outrage".
Australians fought and died for a freer society, Mr McCormack said, but his government was focused on rebuilding the economy and protecting lives from the pandemic.
The Aboriginal Legal Service was among the organisations to condemn the comparison with the attack on US lawmakers attempting to certify the election results.
"It's a disappointment (to say the least) to see the acting PM mischaracterise our fight for justice as 'race riots'," the organisation tweeted. "Our demand that black lives be valued and defended against state-sanctioned violence is in no way comparable to attempts to violently overthrow an election."
Spokespeople for Labor and the Greens also condemned the new comments on Tuesday about the racial justice protests. Labor's multicultural affairs spokesperson Andrew Giles called for the remarks to be withdrawn.
ACT Labor MP Andrew Leigh said Mr McCormack knew the implications of what he was saying as the Liberal party chose to reverse its initial vote for a parliamentary motion from Senator Pauline Hanson in support of "all lives matter" last year.
"The simple reality is that Michael McCormick has been too often on the side of the climate deniers and the conspiracy theorists rather than standing firmly for the truth," Dr Leigh said. "Now, it's the difference between the style of conservatism embodied by Malcolm Turnbull, and the style and body by George Christensen and Craig Kelly"
Acting Greens Leader Nick McKim said "post truth" facts was leading the government to the degradation of Australian democracy.