Retired GP running for Nicholls opposes vaccine mandates


Dr Robert Peterson is running for the seat of Nicholls.

An epidemiologist has slammed as “completely bonkers” a claim by a candidate for the regional Victorian seat of Nicholls that deaths from COVID-19 were no worse than the flu. 

Dr Robert Peterson, a recently retired 40-year veteran GP from Seymour, will stand for the United Australia Party (UAP) on a platform opposing vaccine mandates and lockdowns.  He is also sceptical of climate science and opposes the growing focus on reducing emissions. 

Formerly known as Murray, Nicholls has been a safe Coalition seat since 1949, although it faces a serious challenge from independent Rob Priestly this year.  While issues such as water access and labour shortages have been the focus of most candidates, Peterson’s campaign has focused heavily on how the COVID-19 pandemic has been handled. 

“I’d been watching fairly closely the unfolding of the COVID situation,” he said. “I felt that what was going on was not a true representation of evidence-based medicine.” 

Galvanised by lost freedoms 

He became interested in the UAP after hearing its views on “freedom of choice”. From his perspective, individual rights and freedoms were lost during Australia’s lockdowns. 

Peterson supports the Great Barrington Declaration, a widely discredited 2020 proposal that herd immunity could be achieved by ending lockdowns and isolating only the most vulnerable.  The proposal was made by a group of professors and supported by the American Institute for Economic Research, a think tank also known for spreading climate change misinformation. 

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus – Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) – previously described the theory as “scientifically and ethically problematic”. 

Ghebreyesus told the media in October 2020 that vaccines were the path to herd immunity. “Herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it.” 

Dr Hassan Vally – Associate Professor in Epidemiology at Deakin University – said there was never any evidence lockdowns would “cause more suffering than the lives that you would save”. 

Countries like Australia have had the best outcomes,” he said. 

Peterson was also concerned about mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer’s, which he described as “gene therapy”.  He claimed they would destroy the immune system and leave people significantly more vulnerable to other viruses. 

But according to Vally, “that potentially reveals a basic misunderstanding of how vaccines work and how mRNA vaccines work. There’s nothing mysterious about what they’re doing. 

“There’s no conceivable way that we know of that makes any sense to draw that conclusion.” 

Pandemic “wasn’t an emergency” 

Peterson said vaccines were usually trialled for “five to 10 years” and abandoned if 50 people died.  Asked whether urgent approval had been justified by the global emergency, he said: “It wasn’t an emergency. 

“The numbers of deaths were no greater than, you know, a standard nasty flu.” 

But Vally said that was “clearly and obviously completely bonkers”. 

WHO data showed over 6.2 million officially recorded deaths from COVID-19 in the pandemic’s first 29 months, although the true figure was estimated to be more than twice that.  That was an average of at least 2.6 million deaths per year, despite lockdowns, mask-wearing, vaccinations and other measures. 

A 2019 study published in the Journal of Global Health estimated 389,000 annual deaths from influenza.  It means COVID-19 is almost seven times more deadly – and may be as much as 19 times by some estimates – even with prevention measures in place. 

Vally said, “It’s a huge problem when people spread false information … people have literally lost their lives because they’ve believed some false information.” 

Net zero “weakening our position” 

Peterson was also unhappy with the push to reach net zero emissions by 2050, which he said was “weakening our position as a secure, independent country”. 

He said the country should maintain coal-fired power stations to provide base-load generation and keep prices low.  Coal is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, but Dr Peterson said he was sceptical of the science on climate change. 

“I have to say that I’m still not even convinced that the science is there at all … there’s never been a debate,” he said. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported in 2021: “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.”  The IPCC is an international authority on climate change and has spent more than 30 years assessing the scientific evidence. 

Peterson’s scepticism is shared by Rikkie-Lee Tyrell – the One Nation candidate for Nicholls – who told student journalist Helena Morgan that climate change was “political” and not caused by humans.  Last month, Peterson told the Riverine Herald he would ask UAP voters to put One Nation second on the ballot. 

Before retiring last year, Peterson was a regional GP in Seymour for four decades. He said rural medicine was fulfilling because “you can be proactive, delivering babies, giving anaesthetics, minor surgery”. 

Medicine trumped sport 

He followed one of his three brothers into medicine and said his family’s ethic was to contribute to society. In his youth, he played football for North Melbourne in the Victorian Football League from the age of 16.  He studied medicine at Melbourne University before starting a residency in Perth where he had to give up his football career. 

“In those days, as a resident medical officer, we had enormous hours,” he said. “You very rarely got a regular weekend off.” 

While in Perth, he joined the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which he described as an “incredible existence”. 

He spent most of his working life in Seymour, where he also became president of the cricket club and was involved in the football and racing clubs.  “It’s a small country town and you really get to know all the people,” he said. 

Peterson decided to end his medical career last year, after losing his wife to cancer. 

“It was time,” he said. “There were clearly more important things in my life.” 

The UAP received just 5.33 per cent of the vote in Nicholls at the last election and it is likely that only independent Rob Priestly has a chance of unseating the Coalition.  Despite the odds, Dr Peterson said, “I’m going to give it my best shot because I’m a passionate Australian and I’m worried about my grandkids.”