One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts suggested there has been a drop in births related to COVID-19 vaccines. Is it correct?

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CheckMate is a weekly newsletter from RMIT FactLab which summarizes the latest in the world of fact-checking and disinformation, drawing on the work of FactLab and its sister organisation, RMIT ABC Fact Check.

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CheckMate November 25, 2022

This week, CheckMate explains why a claim by One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts about a recent “staggering drop” in Australian births doesn’t add up.

We also explain why photos shared online purporting to be from a Barbecues Galore ad campaign don’t cut the mustard, and round up all the claims checked by RMIT ABC Fact Check in the lead up to tomorrow’s Victorian election.

Senator cites ‘incomplete’ figures to suggest decline in Australian births

Man with yellow tie with paper.
One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts asks a question in the Senate in November 2022 on birth rates.(Provided: Parliament of Australia)

One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts have used Twitter sharing a video in which he claims to have identified a “staggering drop” in Australian births, suggesting this was due to COVID-19 vaccines.

According to the senator, official data reveals that births fell by an “astounding” 70 percent in December 2021 compared to July.

“Guess what significant event matches about nine months before this data[?]” he tweeted, alluding to the start of Australia’s vaccine rollout.

“The government claims I got my facts wrong, but the data is published on [Australian Bureau of Statistics] website for all to see,” Senator Roberts wrote on his websitewhich links directly to a set of ABS birth data.

So what happens?

That ABS data cited by Senator Roberts actually shows that after an uneventful first 10 months, registrations of births (by date of occurrence) were lower in the last two months of 2021.

Compared to about 25,000 births in June and 23,000 in October, it appears that there were only 18,000 births in November and then only 6,700 in December.

However, the same dataset cautions that these figures are “incomplete due to [the] delay in registration of births.

It adds: “This is particularly noticeable in December (and to a lesser extent November) as births in these months are more likely to be recorded in the following year.”

In fact, data provided to CheckMate by the ABS shows that its December birth estimates are typically revised upwards – significantly. Between 2018 and 2020, the average increase was 16,500 births.

These updates will not occur until the next annual data release.

And while Senator Roberts pointed to the monthly births by date of the incident, same ABS data release (from October 2022) includes a different measure of births by registration date.

Seen this way, the number of registered births in 2021 was almost identical to the five-year pre-pandemic average (2015-19).

When the ABS released its figures last month, it was announced that Australia’s fertility rate had “exploded[d] back” after a record low in 2020.

Birth and fertility rates have been a recurring theme in anti-vax misinformation, which CheckMate has addressed in previous issues, including here and here.

The Australian Government together with the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, continues to advise that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective for people who are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant, and that being pregnant and unvaccinated carries a greater risk of serious illness from the disease.

Fact check the Victorian election

RMIT ABC Fact Check was busy this week tackling various demands ahead of tomorrow’s Victorian state election.

First up was the leader of the Victorian Greens, Samantha Ratnam, who took to Twitter to claim that since the introduction of poker machines three decades ago, “Victorians have lost $66 billion . . .

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