Famous Australian cartoonist deems vaccinations as “fascist”

Substantive issues—at least of the kind discussed here—are thin on the ground today. But, of course, as Clarence Darrow said at the Scopes trial about creationism: “Ignorance and fanaticism are ever busy and need feeding.” So is fascism, which makes it ironic that, according to Mashable, well-known Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig published the cartoon below in the Melbourne newspaper The Age:


This is clearly Leunig’s ignorant reaction to the state of Victoria’s new “no jab, no play” law that will take into effect next year, a law that mandates, sensibly, that preschoolers can neither go to day care or attend kindergarten without getting their shots. (Whooping cough, for instance, has shown a dramatic rise in the state.)

And this isn’t the first time that Leunig has privileged parents’ rights against the “God of Science”. Here’s a cartoon that he published in The Age in April:

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 7.14.05 AM

Clearly he’s rejecting “what science thinks” in favor of “maternal instincts” and “a mother’s love”. Well, Mr. Leunig, let’s see “a mother’s love” keep somebody from being infected with whooping cough, diphtheria, or polio.  Leunig’s “vaccination = fascism” stand was confirmed in a statement:

In a statement emailed to Mashable Australia, Leunig said his cartoon was not about the value of vaccines. “It is about the punitive deprivation and coercive authoritarian force being increasingly and systematically applied by Federal and State governments to parents who want choice in the matter,” he wrote. “There is a human rights issue here that is deeply disturbing and worth talking about in a clear-headed way that is free of hostility and insult.”

Yes, let’s talk about that “human rights issue.” What about the human right of a young child to be protected from disease, safely, in the face of his parents’ unfounded and ignorant fears? What about the human rights of society as a whole to not allow infected children to mingle with uninfected ones, possibly infecting those whose vaccinations didn’t take or who couldn’t be vaccination for real medical (as opposed to religious or philosophical) reasons? What about the right of society to ward off epidemics by making sure that all children have vaccination, so producing “herd immunity”?

If forced vaccination is a violation of human rights, so are income taxes, driving laws, Social Security, and state-sponsored medical care. Leunig needs to rethink the balance between the rights of individuals and the needs of a liberal democratic society.


  1. eric
    Posted August 19, 2015 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Question to our Aussie readers about the policy: is Victoria saying that you must get your shots before attending public kindergarten, or that you must get your shots before attending any kindergarten, public or private?

    In the US, almost all of our states do the former. I believe there are only two states that do the latter. Not that I think the latter is necessarily bad, I’m just curious about how strict they decided to go.

    • Marella
      Posted August 19, 2015 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

      It’s public and private and includes day-care not just kindergarten. So pretty comprehensive.

    • madscientist
      Posted August 19, 2015 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

      Only publicly funded ones; the anti-vaxxers can set up their own anti-vaxx network if they wish but can get no public funding. ( In Australia privately owned schools etc can get public money to operate, which is something the libertardians just love. )

    • eric
      Posted August 20, 2015 at 7:07 am | Permalink

      Thanks for your replies, both. So reading both, would ‘any organization, public or private, receiving government funds’ be accurate?

  2. Sastra
    Posted August 19, 2015 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    That little poem about “a mother’s love” standing bravely against both what science says and the power of the State is an excellent example of the sort of framing which blinds people to the facts. We can all imagine a romantic story where this actually happens and — here is the significant part — it turns out that the mother was right all along. Imagine it.

    Yet it’s such a flattering view of motherhood and self that it bowls some people right over. The miniscule chance of being right and thus being the hero in your child’s life simply swamps over the capacity to make a clear-eyed assessment. “Imagine” becomes “Believe” as you pick through which authorities you will now “trust” — the highest authority of course being the mother and her magical instinct.

    The very issue of safety is ripe for triggering an over-reaction, since nobody wants to be responsible for a mistake. Therefore they bring in the language of “choice,” as if mothers and fathers were keeping their child safe and healthy by “choosing” their child’s diet, toys … or religion.

    • Posted August 19, 2015 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      Policy is hard. Poems are easy.

      Perhaps old Dad is less emotional
      But that don’t mean he ain’t devotional
      ‘Cuz he thinks the state should have impunity
      To vaccinate the whole community
      And thus create the opportunity
      For us to get some herd immunity.

      It’s not some woo that Dad has bought:
      The science proves there is a shot
      To save the health each tot has got.

      Mother’s love is worth a lot …
      But a vaccination it is not.

      Note: The parent in my verse is Dad only because it is in retort to Leunig’s Toon (say, that sounds like …). The majority of the moms in my circle attend closely to their kids’ health needs with little or no involvement of the dads.

  3. Draken
    Posted August 19, 2015 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    He wants talking in a “clear-headed way that is free of hostility and insult” but almost in the same breath sweeps science together with fascism? That man has more gut than container of haggis.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 19, 2015 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      Good point. And I like the analogy too. 🙂

    • madscientist
      Posted August 19, 2015 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

      It’s fairly typical of the “oh, you’re so closed-minded!” crowd – what they believe is Right and everyone else is persecuting them and refuses to listen to reason.

  4. daniel bertini
    Posted August 19, 2015 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Leunig equals leunacy!! What a complete and utter ignoramous!!

  5. Posted August 19, 2015 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    The only people who oppose childhood vaccination are monsters (and their dupes) hellbent on making children get sick and die from horrific and easily-preventable diseases. Many of these monsters, especially the more prominent ones, are making significant financial profits from their heartlessness.

    It’s high time we gave these monsters the same social treatment we do all other child abusers.

    Once upon a time, child labor, beatings, arranged “marriages,” and the like were are considered social norms. Today they’re considered horrific. Only when medical neglect joins that list will children be reasonably safe form this most pernicious new evil.


    • rickflick
      Posted August 19, 2015 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      “Only when medical neglect joins that list will children be reasonably safe”

      The problem is, the government would have to essentially single out a small number of religions and declare them false and dangerous. Not only would those religions resist the idea, the other religions would defend them knowing they could be next, for any number of false and dangerous beliefs. There is honor among thieves.

      • Posted August 19, 2015 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

        It’s not singling out a specific religion, but a specific practice across religious and non religious alike. For example, forced child marriages are illegal in the US, but I don’t see Christians defending American Muslims who are not allowed to practice it.

        • rickflick
          Posted August 19, 2015 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

          Right, but I think there are only a few religions that perform faith healing in this way. Church of Christ Scientist, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Amish and Scientologists. Undoubtedly there are more fundamentalist sects, but I think they would be rather small in population. If legislation was proposed, say to encourage prosecution of parents who do not contact doctors when needed, where they are currently protected, they would sue. How much support would the legislation get from legislators who are strongly religious? Not much. Their persecution complex would take hold and they would claim the government is taking away their religious liberty.

          • Posted August 19, 2015 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

            This would affect Native Americans too – according to earlier posts on this site, some tribe members also use faith “healing” to prevent children from getting actual healing, at least in Canada.
            I agree that this legislation might not get much support, but here in the U.S., barely any legislation is getting passed anyway.

    • eric
      Posted August 20, 2015 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      I oppose childhood vaccination for smallpox. Does that make me a monster? And how about the flu? Should anti-Malarial treatments be mandatory? If we ever found a vaccine for malaria, should we then keep kids out of US schools or fine/jail their parents for not getting it? Even though it practically doesn’t exist in the US?

      IMO the force government uses to compel vaccination should be based on the risks and outcomes of the disease. Very low risk of infection or very low (risk of a severe) outcome, voluntary vaccination is fine. As risk and potential badness go up, policy should shift from plain vanilla voluntary to voluntary with government sticks and carrots to mandatory/conscience exemptions okay to mandatory/only health exceptions allowed. The level of government compulsion should be determined on a case by case basis, depending on the disease’s contagiousness, prevalence or likelihood of contacting a carrier in the population, and the likely severity of symptoms/severity of outcome.

      This is not a public policy issue which we should paint with a broad brush, there is nuance here. I would support mandatory vaccination with only health exemptions allowed for a lot of diseases. Example: whooping cough. Reasoning: cases are increasing, its very contagious, and it can put people in the hospital or kill them. For some diseases, I would support the current system (voluntary with pretty strong sticks and carrots) or mandatory vaccination with a limited number of conscience exemptions. Example: polio in the US, today. Reasoning: while it can be fatal or cause permanent damage, cases are practically nonexistent, its almost eradicated on the continent. For other diseases I would *not* support mandatory vaccination. Example: flu. Reasoning: average outcome is not severe enough to justify a government use of force.

      • rickflick
        Posted August 20, 2015 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        I thought smallpox had been eliminated. Is it still vaccinated against? There are various forms of the disease. Perhaps the most lethal form is gone, but less lethal forms persist. It would be interesting to know the status.

      • Posted August 20, 2015 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

        Er…I would have thought it obvious that all the usual descriptors about “medically indicated” and exceptions for those with compromised immune systems and all the rest would apply. And, of course, a reasonable debate can be had about specific cases where a pathogen is extinct, regionally or globally, or another with a questionable record of effectiveness, or whatever.

        But that’s not the debate we’re having. Instead, and what my remarks were aimed at, are the “protect the integrity of my child’s precious bodily fluids” crazy woo bullshit arguments that have no basis in reality.


      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 20, 2015 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

        You have a point there.

        However the case for/against flu is more complex. First, it’s extremely infectious; second, it _can_ kill susceptible people; but third, as I understand it the vaccination formulation is a bit of a guess as to which strains to cover in any particular year, so the efficacy of vaccination is not guaranteed.


  6. Sean
    Posted August 19, 2015 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I never really thought about herd immunity until my stepdaughter was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. The (very harsh) chemotherapy obliterates her immune system and its been a constant battle to keep fevers under control.

    knowing that a growing number of people are walking around with unvaccinated children is terrifying. And the terror is raised to a new level when you have a child with a compromised immune system.

    Anti-vaxers are the personification of narcissistic self-involvement.

    • Posted August 19, 2015 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      I’m sorry to hear about your stepdaughter, best wishes to her speedy recovery. I really hope the chemo will do the trick.

  7. Michael Michaels
    Posted August 19, 2015 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    The children are not forced to get vaccinations, but there is a consequence if they do not, and those consequences are there for the protection of other children and greater society at large.
    Just as public swimming pools don’t allow people with gaping weeping infections into the pool. That’s not fascism, that’s just good public policy.

    If the parents want to take their children to daycare and kindergarten, then there is a trade off. Like so many advantages of living in a modern society, there are tradeoffs.
    We trade privacy for having quick access to jobs, to medical care, to all the benefits we gain in a larger society.

    If I want my house to be hooked up to my town’s sewer system, I must pay taxes. On the other hand, if I don’t want to use our sewer system, that doesn’t mean I can leave human sewage in a pit on my yard. I live in a society and some of my actions have consequences on others.

    The children also need to be clothed when they go to kindergarten. That’s not fascism, that’s just part of being in society. So is not giving your fellow students a potentially life threatening communicable disease. Parents don’t get to just throw up their hands and say tough crap on everyone else.

    The parents don’t have to use daycare or kindergarten, but like vaccinations it will almost certainly give their children advantages if they do.

    The choice is the parents.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 19, 2015 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

      I don’t want unvaccinated people to be allowed to catch the train I’m on. Why should I run increased risk for their stupidity?

      (I’d make exception – and accept the increased risk to me – for, as has been mentioned, medically valid exemptions).


      • madscientist
        Posted August 19, 2015 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

        Sure, but there is no reasonable way to put that into law or to enforce it (riding on a train/whatever without vaccination). Besides, most adults don’t get a number of vaccines which they probably should get; the measles and chickenpox may not be likely to kill a young fit adult but the victim can still spread the disease to the younger population.

  8. tubby
    Posted August 19, 2015 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    No, Leunig, it’s about preventing the spread of vaccine preventable diseases. You’re not allowed to increase the risk for all the other kids to get these diseases because your mommy instincts tell you vaccines are bad.

  9. Posted August 19, 2015 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    The Australian government also banned cigarette advertising and forces people to build a fence around their in-ground swimming pool to stop young children falling in and drowning. Just like in Nazi Germany.

    • Posted August 19, 2015 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

      I’m not sure of the level of irony in your comment but Nazi Germany actually was the first country to institute a vigorous anti-smoking campaign (not sure about swimming pools though). At another level of irony, the Australin government is currently being sued by another great free choice advocate, Philip Morris.

  10. Willard Bolinger
    Posted August 19, 2015 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    I totally agree with Jerry on the need to have all vaccinated. Not convinced about ‘liberal democractic society”. It seems to this history and economics 73 years old that the rich have always had the greater says over what the people want. it comes up through history how there were plans to pass legislation of all kind and yet what is the common explaination? some specific corporate power campaigned against against it and they won over all the rest of the peple who wanted it passed. That has never sounded in the slightest as “democratic”! Oligarchy is more likely- “a form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique’and it would not to actually be “all” to give the corporate power enough power to stop laws that would keep them in check. I do see some local control like in the smaller towns in the hands of the elites within their communities for local issues. In large cities well again some local elites canget get their way on some local issues but when it comes to the national then the corporate powers seem to rule in their areas of interests! That is why the U.S. doesn’t provide maternity leave for most women or why there is no to little regulation of lots of corporate products to protect the public like other= countries have. Our very expensive and many not covered health system. Inbarassing really. Cosmetics largely unregulated. Much more!

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 19, 2015 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      Most liberal democratic societies though aren’t dominated by about 400 wealthy families like in the US. Most of us, including Australia, have strict election finance laws, which are strictly enforced, that prevent the buying of elections and political influence, gerrymandering etc. We also have much lower levels of bribery and corruption than the US. I understand your cynicism, but most modern democracies are more like what Jerry describes. I assume some parts of the US are better than others too.

      • Posted August 19, 2015 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

        I assume Australia does not have a supreme court that thinks buying elections is a fine idea.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted August 19, 2015 at 7:40 pm | Permalink


      • madscientist
        Posted August 19, 2015 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

        Well, you just keep believing that. 🙂 I look and I see the same rampant corruption which I had seen take hold in the USA since the 1980s. Having rules are one thing, but people are always skirting the rules. Why aren’t your politicians closing down tax loopholes and pursuing the large tax evaders? Why are your politicians trying to eradicate already paltry environmental protection legislation?

        • Posted August 19, 2015 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

          Why aren’t your politicians closing down tax loopholes and pursuing the large tax evaders? Why are your politicians trying to eradicate already paltry environmental protection legislation?

          Because we have the best politicians money can buy?


  11. Dave
    Posted August 19, 2015 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    It’s evident that Australia suffers from a dearth of decent cartoonists.

    • kelskye
      Posted August 19, 2015 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      We’ve got plenty of good ones (check out the Guardian’s First Dog On The Moon), and Leunig is really good on other issues. It’s just on this issue he’s advocating nonsense.

  12. Posted August 19, 2015 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Funny, *my* mother’s instincts included getting me vaccinated! (Maybe being a nurse helped, but …)

    • madscientist
      Posted August 19, 2015 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

      Oh, there are the New Age Nurses now and they’re the loudest whiniest lot – bullying other nurses while whining about how they’re being persecuted. Everything’s got to be “natural” and everyone must “have a choice” – the usual crap.

      • Posted August 20, 2015 at 11:20 am | Permalink

        Indeed – my mother retired just as “Therapeutic Touch” was getting popular – I pointed her to the skeptical literature but it was too late.

        • Posted August 20, 2015 at 11:21 am | Permalink

          Too late for her to make a skeptical difference, I should say – she had already retired for other reasons.

  13. colnago80
    Posted August 19, 2015 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    The response to people like Leunig is really very simple. Your rights end where my nose begins.

  14. kelskye
    Posted August 19, 2015 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    The cartoonist is such a great voice for social concerns that it’s a shame he’s a mouth-piece for idiocy on this issue. As one political commentator pointed out, the logical extension of this view is dead children – something the cartoonist rightfully abhors in other facets of Australian and global politics.

  15. Posted August 19, 2015 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    “If forced vaccination is a violation of human rights, so are income taxes, driving laws, Social Security, and state-sponsored medical care.”

    I of course agree with the law, but I don’t think any of your examples, some of which many would say are a violation of human rights, come close to the seriousness of allowing children to be unvaccinated. I would say it’s more analogous to allowing children to bring loaded guns to preschool, or day care. Something I don’t think anyone would approve of.

  16. Delphin
    Posted August 19, 2015 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    First, I favour compulsory vaccines. And the mother’s instincts bit is crazy. But there is a legitimate concern with the idea that once “science proves” something that that ends the debate. The case that the death penalty deters murder is moderately good, so let’s imagine that in the next few years it becomes rock-sold, so solid only a “denialist” would deny it. Would that *settle* the issue of capital punishment? Not for me; not for most here. There are other considerations, right? And there is a tendency to screem “denier” or “anti-science” at people who take opposing views on issues.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted August 19, 2015 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      The case that the death penalty deters murder is moderately good

      Citation needed, I think. The consensus of experts seems to be against this view.

      • Delphin
        Posted August 20, 2015 at 9:06 am | Permalink

        No link is needed since I posed a hypothetical. My point does not depend on that.

        Aside from that, phrases like “moderately good” indicate an opinion, not a factual claim.

        • winewithcats
          Posted August 22, 2015 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

          Actually, your point does depend on that, because the analogy falls apart when the hypothetical goes the opposite direction as the point at hand.

  17. Hempenstein
    Posted August 19, 2015 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    We should be reading about head-on collisions involving people like this, but somehow they’re able to perceive enough reality to stay in the appropriate lane, etc.

  18. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted August 19, 2015 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    I await Leunig’s cartoon defending drunks who urinate in the public water supply. It’s an important human rights issue worth talking about!

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 19, 2015 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

      Actually, this should not be possible for several reasons (in developed countries at least). Generally the whole public treated water supply is in pressurised pipelines so you can’t pee into it. The only place it is exposed is above the dams in the catchment, and that water is filtered and chlorinated before getting into the supply.

      You can pee in my dam all you like and I won’t care. Because (a) in general, pee doesn’t carry many diseases (as I understand it); (b) there are millions of wild animals busy peeing and shitting in it as fast as they can already, and doubtless quite a few die in it; which is why (c) it’s going to be treated as above.

      Just hairsplitting but I think you need a better analogy… 😉


      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted August 19, 2015 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

        OK, how about food service workers who refuse to wash their hands? Don’t they have rights too?

  19. Ken McKeen
    Posted August 19, 2015 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    These appeals to parental rights by anti-vaxers make my head hurt. They only make sense if you view children as property. As if they don’t have rights of their own. Like the right not to be killed by parental neglect. Like the right to the basic necessities of life. It’s generally understood that parents are in the best position to povide for their own children. It is however the whole communities responsibility to step in if a parent can’t or won’t do what is necessary for the well being of their child. A dead child has no rights to lose.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 19, 2015 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

      This is me too. It’s about society stepping in to protect the child (and other children also in this case) when the parents have got it wrong.

      Most anti-vaxxers are as blind in their beliefs as the intensely religious. The parents are entitled to their beliefs, but the children are entitled to be protected from those beliefs.

      It’s like when the state steps in to give a child of Jehovah’s Witness parents a blood transfusion. Given his history, I’m pretty sure this cartoonist would approve of that over parents’ “instincts” to let their child die.

      I wonder if the parents’ decision would be any different if we could prove their child was going to get measles and go blind, get brain damage and lose a couple of limbs into the bargain.

  20. Wayne Robinson
    Posted August 19, 2015 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    ‘The Age’ this morning published 4 letters in the letters to the editor section of the newspaper criticising Leunig for his cartoon (including one by me, noting that I was appalled and that governments in liberal democracies don’t have the power to make childhood immunisations mandatory but that they do have the power to require children attending childcare centres or schools to be fully immunised in order to keep the level of herd immunity high and to protect children who either have medical reasons for not being immunised or the immunisation just didn’t ‘take’).

    There were no letters in support of Leunig. Leunig isn’t the worst cartoonist. I usually don’t read him because his cartoons are usually too wordy. The worst cartoonist the Age has is John Spooner, a AGW denialist, who manages to produce anti-Islamic like cartoons which are 1. Factually not correct, and 2. Not funny (I don’t include Jesus and Mo in that category). He also co-authored the AGW denialist book ‘Taxing Air’.

  21. Leigh Jackson
    Posted August 19, 2015 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    So the issue is not about the value of vaccines in protecting the lives of children,
    the issue is about the perverse right of mothers to do harm – to the point of killing children, their own and others –
    as a consequence of their ignorance.

    Parents should not have that right. They may be determined to put their own
    children’s lives at risk, but they should have no right to endanger the lives of other children.

    “There is a human rights issue here that is deeply disturbing and worth talking about in a clear-headed way that is free of hostility and insult…

    The God of science…”


  22. Marella
    Posted August 19, 2015 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    Michael Leunig has been an institution in Australia, and especially Victoria for decades. On most topics he is sound, but when it comes to children he often loses the plot. His own children were home schooled, a much rarer thing in Australia than America, and he lives in a remote location in the mountains of East Gippsland. The poor man suffers from depression and is generally becoming more and more dissatisfied with modernity by the day, and I fear, less relevant.

    He also makes the mistake of using ducks as a metaphor for goodness, and as we all know, ducks are arseholes. 😉

  23. ConnorH
    Posted August 20, 2015 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    My paediatrician wife’s view on this: “That’s very irresponsible”

%d bloggers like this: