Rogue MP's support growing despite PM reprimand
Prime Minister Scott Morrison's public rebuke of Liberal MP Craig Kelly for spruiking unproven COVID-19 treatments appears to have boosted the maverick MP's popularity and influence on social media.
The member for Hughes in Sydney's south was hauled into the PM's office this week for a 30-minute lecture on how he was undermining the Government's message on the COVID-19 vaccine.
The PM had earlier made a cease-and-desist phone call to Mr Kelly when the backbencher appeared on a podcast with anti-vaxxer chef Pete Evans, who was fined last year for trying to flog a $15,000 light machine he claimed could cure COVID.
But after a live-to-air clash with journalist Allison Langdon on the Today show, followed by a toe-to-toe row with Labor's Tanya Plibersek in front of the Canberra press gallery, Mr Morrison upped the pressure.
Mr Kelly was ordered into the PM's office for a talking to, whereupon he agreed to cease what Labor has described as a campaign of disinformation.
But far from the controversy putting off his constituents, Mr Kelly has picked up support.
His official Facebook page, where he posts an eclectic array of articles supporting unproven COVID treatments, questions climate change, and suggested making children wear face masks was akin to child abuse (children do not have to wear face-masks in Australia), had 86,000 followers last month.
By Thursday night, he had almost 95,000, many of them defending him from what they saw as a concerted attack by the mainstream media, the government establishment, and the Left of politics. He picked up another 1000 followers in the 24 hours to Friday morning.
While Mr Morrison and Labor leader Anthony Albanese both have a much larger group of social media followers, Mr Kelly has vastly more than other backbench MPs, meaning his reach and ability to talk directly to like-minded voters is powerful.
This was part of the dilemma for Mr Morrison, who had to tread carefully for fear Mr Kelly would go completely rogue.
"You don't want to make a martyr out of him. Every time you do he picks up another 5000 followers,'' one source close to the action said.
Senior Liberals, more interested in spruiking the Government's COVID vaccine and highlighting Labor leadership tensions, were fretting about his freelancing, which was dominating the airwaves.
"It's just not helpful,'' one MP said. Another said his views were "dangerous.''
It's not the first time Mr Kelly, who worked for his parents' furniture business before being elected in 2010, has been dragged into line by the Prime Minister's Office over his Facebook page. It happened a year ago, after another high-profile clash with a woman.
Mr Kelly had appeared live on the top-rating Good Morning Britain show in the UK last January, got into a stoush with the presenters over Australia's bushfire disaster, and took umbrage at being called a "climate denier.''
He used Facebook to describe Laura Tobin, the program's meteorologist, as an "ignorant Pommy weather girl,'' in a post which unleashed a stream of sexist and vile comments from some of his followers, and led to an order from the PM's office to delete the post.
Mr Kelly's last half-dozen posts are about China's use of coal, a news article about "global cooling'', defending himself over his support of the drug hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID, an article entitled The Hydroxychloroquine Scandal (published by the Epoch Times, backed by the Falun Gong movement), another post about hydroxychloroquine and a sixth on "climate alarmism.''
He added a further post late on Thursday praising Emeritus Professor Robert Clancy, who has supported Mr Kelly's debate on the two drugs. In his post, Mr Kelly asked people to bring it to the attention of "Tanya and Ally" - presumably referring to Ms Plibersek and Ms Langdon.
A comment by one follower on the article about the "scandal'' involving hydroxychloroquine (which is not recommended by leading health agencies in Australia, the EU, the UK or US) sums up the vibe of many of those posting.
"Simple, two reasons. One is that it would not make enough money for Big Pharma. Two: President Trump praised them, so it had to be attacked from the biginning! (sic) Deep State works!''
The idea of a deep state network working against the interests of its citizens is one spread by QAnon conspiracy theorists. Mr Evans has posted QAnon messages on his social media in the past.
Mr Kelly fell out with the Liberal pre-selectors in his seat years ago, and has been saved twice from being disendorsed, first by former PM Malcolm Turnbull, and most recently by Mr Morrison.
Liberal MPs have made clear he won't be saved a third time.
Queensland Nationals are now making mischief and suggesting Mr Kelly should join their party.
Mr Kelly told News Corp he knew some would attack him after he agreed to "being interviewed by Mr Evans.''
"However I thought it an important principle of free speech and a push back against 'cancel culture,'' he said.
"I don't agree with everything that Mr Evans has said - but we have to be able to debate issues with those we don't agree with, if that's not the case, it's sad reflection on public debate in 2021.''
He did not answer questions on whether he would receive the Government's COVID-19 vaccine, or whether he would encourage others to do so.
In the podcast, he again spruiked the use of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, citing unnamed "studies from all around the world'' and claiming "big government'' had "interfered'' to stop doctors proscribing the two drugs.
"In a free democratic society that decision should be between myself and my doctor. There shouldn't be someone second guessing that decision from some office and ivory tower down here in Canberra.
"We've had close to a thousand Australians die here without, with being denied access to a medical treatment.''
Amid widespread concern Mr Kelly was undermining confidence in the Government's COVID-19 vaccine, Mr Morrison made a rare statement to the House distancing the Government from Mr Kelly's views and urging the public to only follow expert health advice.
The PM also tweeted out a link to an interview Australia's most senior health official Professor Brendan Murphy did with the ABC, saying "this is well worth a watch. Professor Brendan Murphy, who heads the Government's expert advisory group on COVID-19 vaccines, clears up some of the misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.''
The key line from Professor Murphy was: "There is no current evidence that supports a role for hydroxychloroquine (in) stopping the coronavirus pandemic.''
After his meeting with Mr Morrison, Mr Kelly issued a statement where he broadly agreed to toe the Government line.
Unsurprisingly, he has not posted that statement to his Facebook followers.
Originally published as Kelly support growing despite PM reprimand