Pressure to condemn Lib MP's virus posts

Matt Coughlan
·3-min read

Australia's chief medical officer has urged a conspiracy theory-peddling Liberal MP to decide if promoting unproven coronavirus treatments is appropriate.

The Morrison government is under increasing pressure to publicly condemn coalition backbenchers Craig Kelly and George Christensen for sharing virus misinformation.

Mr Kelly has been promoting anti-parasitic Ivermectin on Facebook in recent days, prompting the social media giant to warn him over one of the posts.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly - who confirmed he is no relation to the Sydney-based MP - said the drug had no proven use against coronavirus.

"He needs to decide what is the appropriate thing for a member of parliament to be commenting on," he told reporters in Canberra.

"I'm not going to talk further about this because it just gives prominence to views I don't agree with."

Professor Kelly was involved in successful trials of the anti-parasitic agent for river blindness while working in Africa.

"It has uses in many other parasitic diseases including scabies and we're using that in the Northern Territory," he said.

"There's no evidence at the moment that it has any benefit or any use in relation to the prevention or treatment of COVID-19."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, his deputy Michael McCormack and Health Minister Greg Hunt have refused to publicly condemn Mr Kelly or Mr Christensen.

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said free speech was not a reason to let statements go unchallenged.

"What Morrison and McCormack and Hunt should be saying at the very least is that Craig Kelly is wrong and that it is reckless and irresponsible to be misleading the Australian public on matters of public health," he told the ABC.

Labor's health spokesman Chris Bowen said Mr Kelly was undermining confidence in Australia's medical and scientific institutions.

"It's extraordinary and appalling that nobody in the federal government has the guts to call this guy out and say what he's doing is spreading disinformation. It's dangerous," he told ABC radio.

The Australian Medical Association is calling on the federal government to launch an advertising campaign to counter misinformation.

While senior cabinet ministers have failed to directly criticise Mr Kelly, Liberal MP Fiona Martin is willing to call out her partyroom colleague.

"Freedom of speech does not equal freedom of responsibility," Dr Martin posted to Twitter.

"In a political environment shaped by COVID, the responsibility of every MP is to safeguard democracy by rejecting disinformation and fake news. We have a duty to our nation to follow the evidence and facts."

Meanwhile, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has called for a review of Australia's hotel quarantine system after six people in Brisbane tested positive for the highly contagious UK virus strain.

A quarantine hotel has been shut down and residents moved after four people quarantining there, a cleaner and her partner contracted the disease.

NSW recorded one new locally acquired case linked to the Berala cluster on Wednesday, while Victoria's run of no new local infections extended to a week.