Craig Kelly ‘in regular contact’ with PM over COVID-19 posts rebuked by experts

Liberal MP Craig Kelly and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Source: AAP

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who Liberal MP Craig Kelly claims he’s in regular contact with, has repeatedly refused to condemn the Member for Hughes over his social media posts about COVID-19.

As pressure mounts on Liberal politicians to condemn MP Craig Kelly’s social media use, the Member for Hughes told The Feed he’s in “regular contact” with the Prime Minister regarding his COVID-19 posts.

“I'm in regular contact with the Health Minister and the Prime Minister's office,” Mr Kelly said.

“Often they say, you know, you've been accused of this in the media, ‘What's the story?’ And I simply explain, hang on a minute, this is simply untrue, what has been posted about me,” he added.

Chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, has rebuked the Member for Hughes for sharing articles promoting the use of ivermectin, an anti-parasitical drug used for lice. 

Professor Kelly said there was “no evidence” anti-parasitic drug ivermectin is useful in combatting Covid-19 and he did not want to give prominence “to views that I just don’t agree with and are not scientifically based”.

Mr Kelly has also shared articles that suggest hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, could be effective in treating the virus - a claim disputed by the World Health Organization. 

The prime minister has been heavily criticised by the Labor Party for not speaking out about Mr Kelly’s posts, including claims that Antifa was involved in the insurrection of the US Capitol.

“Craig Kelly has promoted conspiracy theories about the coronavirus, peddling dangerous comments about that and advice that it’s all a conspiracy, and now we have him justifying and seeking to make excuses for [the Capitol riots], and indeed just making comments that are just beyond belief,” Labor Leader Anthony Albanese said.

Australian Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly.
Australian Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly.

It comes as research from the Australia Institute showed three in four Australians want Prime Minister Scott Morrison to publicly criticise Mr Kelly for spreading “misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic on social media”.

The Feed reached out to the PM for comment but did not hear back before deadline.

When asked if he’d condemn “conspiracy theories” by members of his own government” in January, Mr Morrison said: “Australia is a free country”.

Liberal Member for Hughes Craig Kelly.
Liberal Member for Hughes Craig Kelly.

“There’s such a thing as freedom of speech in this country and that will continue,” he replied.

Last August, when questioned about the same issue, the PM replied: “I’m not going to get onto what people talk about on Facebook on a day like this.”

Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, and Health Minister, Greg Hunt, have also been hesitant to denounce the Member for Hughes. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Scott Morrison has defended Mr Kelly's right to "free speech".

When asked about Mr Kelly’s social media posts, Mr Hunt said: “There will be different views from different people,” while Mr McCormack claimed: “facts are sometimes contentious”.

This morning, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian avoided directly condemning Mr Kelly’s social media posts in an interview with ABC News Breakfast. 

Presenter Michael Rowland asked the premier if Mr Morrison should “pull him into line”, to which Ms Berejiklian replied: “Look, I just focus on what I need to focus on... My view is all of us should always follow all of the health advice.”

Mr Kelly rejected the idea that he’s posted misleading claims about COVID-19 and said all he’s been doing “is posting the opinions of highly credentialed medical professionals around the world."

He told The Feed he believes doctors should be allowed to prescribe drugs like hydroxychloroquine to patients and that everyone should be able to decide whether they wish to take a vaccine. 

“On my individual circumstances, where we have zero community infections in Australia, I can't see the need for myself, personally, to need to take the vaccination,” he said.

So, what do experts say?

Professor Andrew McLachlan is the Head of School and Dean of Pharmacy at the University of Sydney. He said the jury is out on hydroxychloroquine being an effective treatment for COVID-19 but clinical trials are still ongoing for ivermectin.  

“To say that [ivermectin] is an effective treatment and we’re neglecting it is a bit unfair because at the moment, there are clinical trials that are being done to evaluate it,” Professor  McLachlan said.

The World Health Organisation has said hydroxychloroquine is ineffective as a treatment for COVID-19

Professor McLachlan added Mr Kelly’s posts regarding the number of positive studies of hydroxychloroquine and other drugs also lacked “scientific rigour”.

“Things that are published, it doesn't necessarily mean they're relevant, or correct,” he said.

“They need to be critically analysed and weighed against all the information that's available. And that's why the COVID Task Force does such a good job, it's looking at all the information that's out there, the quality of that information, and synthesising from that.”

He said despite the fact that Australia has had zero local cases of COVID-19 for over a week, vaccinations remain the most effective strategy in keeping on top of the virus.

“We've had a number of second and third waves that have come out due to one case coming in from overseas and then spreading from there, so you can see how vulnerable communities might be if they do not have the protection of vaccination.”

Professor McLachlan said Mr Kelly had “failed to understand all the careful procedures and expertise” of the National COVID-19 Taskforce.

“I do find that, obviously, a challenge when a senior official is really taking on a group of Australia's best, who came together in a short order to provide these living guidelines to update and evaluate evidence critically in a balanced way to guide treatment.”

“That confusion [caused by sharing inconclusive studies] may lead to people not getting the treatments that will really help them and help the community.”