Controversial government backbencher Craig Kelly has defended himself in a fiery interview on breakfast TV as pressure mounts on the government to rein in the MP for undermining the country’s pandemic response.
Labor has stepped up its attacks on the member for the federal seat of Hughes in NSW, who is accused of promoting debunked coronavirus remedies, questioning the need for a vaccine and spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories about Covid-19.
Appearing on Today on Wednesday morning, he said he was “very disappointed about the Labor party making this a partisan issue” and sought to defend the often spurious information he posts on social media, saying he shares peer reviewed studies pushed by “experts”.
Today host Allison Langdon was quick to refute the broad claim.
“That’s not true, Craig,” she said. “I spent some time online last night and I managed to debunk every one of your theories. They’re not peer reviewed.
“Don’t you need to pull your head in?” she asked the Liberal member.
While one of Kelly’s pet causes – the use of hydroxychloroquine and another drug ivermectin to threat Covid-19 – has some support in the medical community, others have pointed to insufficient evidence.
Kelly invoked the support of Emeritus Professor Robert Clancy of the University of Newcastle on the particular issue who says the drug combination could be used in conjunction with a vaccine.
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly, however, has previously said there is “no evidence” the drugs should be used in Australia, and suggested the MP’s views were in general were “not scientifically based”.
Host implores MP to ‘be quiet’
When the Today host derided Kelly for promoting a Covid study pushed by a Bangladeshi plastic surgeon, the interview quickly devolved into a shouting match before Kelly defended his position that enforcing children to wear face masks is tantamount to child abuse.
“When you read the science, it says it causes them harm,” he said.
Langdon implored the government MP to “be quiet” as Australia navigated the vaccine rollout in the coming months.
“Craig, we have seen deaths from Covid, we've seen sickness. We've seen mass job losses, hundreds of billions of dollars spent in government stimulus, all our hopes are riding on a vaccine,” she said.
“You need to be quiet.”
PM gives Craig Kelly a ‘dressing down’
Scott Morrison has repeatedly refused to publicly criticise his backbencher citing “free speech”, but met with Mr Kelly on Wednesday in what was reported as the prime minister giving the outspoken member a “dressing down”.
Morrison reportedly told him his actions were undermining the government’s $6 billion vaccine strategy and asked him not to air beliefs that are counter to the government’s official medial advice.
The PM has sprung into action and hauled Craig Kelly into his office for a dressing down months after he started spruiking conspiracy theories...minutes after doing so his office alerted the media. Good marketing skills.
— Peter van Onselen (@vanOnselenP) February 3, 2021
Members of the Opposition who have been calling for the PM to publicly denounce the ideas of his backbencher were circumspect about the story.
“It’s not enough for Scott Morrison to spin to media that he’s given Craig Kelly a dressing down,” Labor senator Penny Wong said Wednesday following the reports.
“Mr Morrison is PM. He needs to lead – not just pose for photo ops. He can’t let dangerous misinformation go uncorrected.”
In a statement following his meeting with the PM, Kelly said he had agreed to support the government’s vaccine rollout and vaguely disavowed the spread of misinformation.
“I agreed to support the government’s vaccine rollout which has been endorsed by the medical experts.
“I have always sought to support the success of our nation’s public health response during the pandemic,” he said.
“I believe the spread of misinformation can damage the success of our public health response during the pandemic.”
Fiery corridor clash with Tanya Plibersek
Ahead of Kelly’s morning interview on Today he clashed with Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek who asked him to stop posting “crazy conspiracies”.
Ms Plibersek confronted Mr Kelly outside media studios in parliament where both had been giving interviews, with a crowd of press gallery media quickly assembling to record the clash.
Tanya Plibersek and Craig Kelly argue about his Covid19 claims in the press gallery at Parliament House pic.twitter.com/76ZdFl2qvn
— Dominic Lorrimer (@DomLorrimer) February 2, 2021
"It's beyond time the prime minister told Craig Kelly to just shut up," she told reporters.
"We're spending $24 million on a campaign to tell people to get vaccinated and we've got a taxpayer-funded nong running around telling people not to."
Ms Plibersek addressed the Liberal backbencher directly with the pair arguing in a corridor surrounded by cameras.
"My mum lives in your electorate and I do not want her exposed to people who aren't going to be vaccinated because of these crazy conspiracy theories," the Labor MP said.
Mr Kelly claims he is not anti-vaccination but wants to consult with his doctor before deciding on which jab he may elect to have.
Last month, emails obtained by Business Insider showed Craig Kelly pushing his theories of experimental cures to officials at Australia’s Therapeutics Goods Administration, who rebuffed the MP’s claims and outlined why his thinking was flawed.
This week, Kelly drew further criticism for appearing on the podcast of conspiracy theorist and former celebrity chef Pete Evans to promote Covid-19 misinformation. Evans was recently booted off Facebook for spreading virus misinformation.
Yahoo News Australia has contacted Craig Kelly for comment.
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