Anthony Albanese has backed a controversial Labor candidate after she apologised for linking Scott Morrison to a junior doctor’s suicide.
Michelle Ananda-Rajah, an infectious diseases expert and Labor’s candidate for the marginal seat of Higgins in Melbourne, tweeted on Saturday that a junior doctor may have taken their own life as a consequence of working in an overwhelmed hospital system in Sydney.
Dr Ananda-Rajah suggested the Prime Minister was to blame for the city’s Covid-19 outbreak because of leaks from the hotel quarantine programme and the initially slow vaccine rollout, and called for increased hospital funding.
Michelle Ananda-Rajah deleted this Twitter post on Saturday night and has apologised
‘A junior doctor took their own life in the past few days. You can’t rule in or out the impact of working in an overwhelmed health system,’ she wrote.
‘Why overwhelmed? Due to the incompetence of Morrison et al who failed at 2 critical jobs and now denies help to hospitals.’
A spokesman for Health Minister Greg Hunt Hunt called the post ‘troubling’ and said ‘the ALP may wish to reconsider whether this person is an appropriate and credible representative for them.’
On Saturday night, Dr Ananda-Rajah removed the post and released a statement, saying: ‘I regret and apologise for any hurt caused which was motivated by the exhaustion and frustration that I, like so many of my healthcare colleagues, feel in this difficult time.’
On Tuesday Mr Albanese said Dr Ananda-Rajah would remain Labor’s candidate for Higgins.
‘She is a candidate in the election. She apologised, it was wrong what she did and she was right to apologise,’ he told reporters.
Dr Ananda-Rajah is pictured with Victorian Labor MP and deputy leader Richard Marles
Although never won by the ALP, Higgins is the ninth most marginal Coalition-held seat.
This means Dr Ananda-Rajah could be among a handful of Labor hopefuls who win the election for Mr Albanese, who needs a net gain of eight seats for a majority.
The Alfred Health physician has received strong support from locals for campaigning on climate change and women’s rights in a series of videos posted on her Facebook page.
Dr Nick Coatsworth (pictured) backed use of AstraZeneca
But the furore over her latest social media post was not the first time she has courted controversy.
In an appearance on ABC show Q&A in February, Dr Ananda-Rajah talked down the AstraZeneca vaccine which the Government had decided would be its main jab in the vaccine rollout.
Referring to a South African study of only 3,000 people, she said the Oxford-made jab was far less effective at stopping transmission of the Beta variant of Covid-19 which originated in Nelson Mandela Bay in May 2020.
‘There may be a problem with the vaccines because they were essentially developed using the original strain, right,’ she said.
Dr Ananda-Rajah said using AstraZeneca instead of Pfizer would leave Australia vulnerable when the international borders opened.
‘I feel that is a population level experiment which has high stakes attached to it. And, personally, I’m not comfortable with that approach at all,’ she said.
Former deputy chief medical officer Dr Nick Coatsworth disagreed, saying it was important to use AstraZeneca because it could be made in Australia and was more abundant than Pfizer.
Anthony Albanese (pictured on Monday) has backed Dr Ananda-Rajah Labor after she apologised for linking Scott Morrison to a junior doctor’s suicide
‘Let’s use the vaccines that we’ve purchased. They DO stop severe disease,’ he said.
‘We’ve got to come back to the objectives of this vaccination program – we want to prevent severe disease and death.
‘We want to stop our ICUs being overwhelmed [and] protect our most vulnerable people, and we can do it with the vaccines we’ve got.’
Dr Ananda-Rajah’s comments were later seized on by Liberals who even branded her an anti-vaxxer and said she was undermining the rollout.
NSW Senator Hollie Hughes said Mr Albanese was ‘recruiting anti-vaxxers as candidates’.
Dr Ananda-Rajah – who has supported vaccination – strongly rejects these claims and has blamed hesitancy over AstraZeneca on ‘the government’s poor handling of changing health advice’.
In a statement in September, she accused the Liberals of launching ‘orchestrated attacks’ on her – and said they will continue right up to the election.
‘I expect the attacks against me to continue because we can make history in Higgins.
‘They will continue their political games against me because this is all they know,’ she wrote.
Liberal Senator Hollie Hughes (pictured) branded Dr Ananda-Rajah as an ‘anti-vaxxer’