Controversial backbencher Craig Kelly has quit the government after coming under pressure for sharing coronavirus misinformation and right-wing conspiracies on Facebook.
Mr Kelly told his party room on Tuesday he was leaving the government and moving to the cross bench.
While he can be expected to cooperate with the Morrison government on its legislative agenda, it leaves the government with just 76 seats – including the speaker – in the 151-member lower house, the absolute slimmest of majorities.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison does not believe any changes to the government's policy direction will be required to cope with the loss.
However off the record, some Liberal members are a little more hot under the collar, with one describing the move as a "dog act" to SBS press gallery journalist, Jamie Travers.
Mr Kelly, the member for the federal seat of Hughes in southern Sydney, routinely posts unproven Covid-19 remedies, debunked climate change denialism and conspiracy theories on social media, which saw him slapped with a one week ban by the social media giant earlier this month.
After a recent and highly publicised confrontation with Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek in the halls of parliament over virus misinformation, Mr Kelly was reportedly reprimanded by the prime minister.
In particular, he has been pushing the use of hydroxychloroquine and anti-parasite drug ivermectin to treat Covid-19, despite the government's top medical experts saying there is no evidence to its efficacy.
Mr Kelly said his decision to leave the party was due to his inability to talk freely about alternative Covid treatments "especially with ivermectin".
"I felt that for the rest of this parliamentary term, if I'm going to act and speak according to my conscience and beliefs, that I can do so more effectively as an independent," he told the ABC on Tuesday afternoon.
Craig Kelly has told the Liberal party room he's the moving to the crossbench claiming he no longer wants to be a distraction.
One Liberal MP describes it to me as a "dog act" and that he should resign from Parliament immediately. #auspol
— Jamie Travers (@JamieTravers) February 23, 2021
Kelly facing growing voter backlash
At the last election Scott Morrison intervened to secure Kelly's hold on the seat of Hughes but the 57-year-old MP was facing being disendorsed by the Liberals ahead of the next federal election.
He said he now intends to contest the next election as an independent.
Mr Kelly has held the seat since 2010 but there has been a growing backlash to his antics among voters in his electorate, with a local group called Hughes Deserves Better commissioning polling this week that showed over 71 per cent of voters thought his social media posts were "irresponsible" or "very irresponsible".
The now former Liberal MP also continues to employ a man who faces allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards underage female interns at his electorate office.
"I have long expressed to Mr Kelly my concerns about that staff member, and he has long understood what my expectations were about how he would deal with that matter," Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.
It took months for the prime minister to publicly condemn Mr Kelly for his misleading coronavirus views.
Mr Kelly was asked to stop questioning the government's health advice, but has not.
"I set out some very clear standards and he made some commitments that I expected to be followed through on," the prime minister said.
"He no longer felt that he could meet those commitments, but I can tell you, my standards don't change."
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