The leader of a remote Australian territory has hit back at remarks by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, criticizing his administration’s vaccine mandates, telling Cruz, “You know nothing about us.”
Michael Gunner, chief minister of the Northern Territory and a member of the center-left Labor Party, took to Twitter to set Cruz straight on "a few facts" after the senator from Texas shared a video of Gunner announcing a wide-ranging vaccine mandate for workers in his territory, which Cruz lamented as "Covid tyranny."
Cruz wrote on Twitter on Oct. 14 that he had always considered Australia the "Texas of the Pacific" because of the rugged independence of its citizens. "Individual liberty matters," he said, describing the current government as "disgraceful & sad."
The Northern Territory is a vast but sparsely populated self-governing Outback area that is home to many Indigenous Australians, who, like first-nation people globally, have a painful legacy of disease and its impact on elders.
"Vaccination is so important here because we have vulnerable communities and the oldest continuous living culture on the planet to protect," the chief minister wrote Monday on Twitter, tagging Cruz in his post.
The territory's wide-reaching vaccine mandate requires workers in customer-facing industries including retail, hospitality and education to get at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine by Nov. 12 and be booked for a second by Dec. 24, or they will not be permitted to return to work and could face a roughly $3,700 fine.
The health order has been seized on by vaccine opponents on social media. Cruz is vaccinated and has said he supports vaccines, but he is opposed to any federal mandate. The governor in his state, Republican Greg Abbott, this month banned any entity - including private businesses - from mandating coronavirus vaccines for workers or customers.
"Nearly 70,000 Texans have tragically died from COVID. There have been zero deaths in the Territory. Did you know that?" Gunner countered in Monday's Twitter post. "I love Texas (go Longhorns), but when it comes to COVID, I'm glad we are nothing like you."
Vaccine bookings in the territory have reportedly surged since the government announcement. As of Oct. 18, more than 70% of Northern Territory residents had received their first dose of the vaccine, and just under 60% were fully vaccinated, according to federal government data.
It's not the first time a conservative commentator has taken a swipe at Australia's tough approach to the coronavirus, which has included long lockdowns, border closures and quarantine policies that earned the Pacific nation the nicknames of "Fortress Australia" and the "Hermit Kingdom." (The country has begun easing those restrictions and will reopen its mostly shut border next month.) Australia deported a British conservative commentator in July after she boasted on social media about appearing naked and maskless in hotel quarantine, in breach of the country's strict rules.
“We’ve done whatever it takes to protect the Territory. That’s kept us safe AND free. We have been in lock down for just eight days in 18 months. Our businesses and school are all open,” Gunner said in his Twitter post Monday, admonishing Cruz for apparently standing against “life-saving vaccines.”