Coalition MP Craig Kelly has defended his 90-minute appearance on a podcast from disgraced former celebrity chef Pete Evans, saying “you’ve got to be able to talk to people you don’t agree with”.
“I’m sure many people would think ‘I don’t agree with what The New Daily says, why the hell are you speaking to The New Daily?’” Mr Kelly told The New Daily with a laugh.
“I’m always happy to talk and put my side of the argument. That’s how our democratic society should work.”
Mr Kelly, the Member for Hughes, joined Evans for a long interview on Monday afternoon.
Evans, a former judge on My Kitchen Rules, has been heavily criticised for promoting dubious health advice through the pandemic, including vaccine scepticism and calling COVID a “scam” and a “fake pandemic narrative”.
He has also posted content linked to the baseless and dangerous Qanon conspiracy theory.
Evans was banned from Facebook in December for “repeated violations” of its policies around COVID-19 “misinformation”, while his podcasts were also removed from Apple and Spotify.
In November, he was dropped from numerous commercial arrangements and a book deal after posting a meme featuring a neo-Nazi symbol to his Instagram. He later apologised and claimed the post had been “misinterpreted”.
However, just hours after Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Mr Kelly was doing “a great job”, Evans revealed the Member for Hughes would appear as a guest on an upcoming podcast episode. Evans called him a “beautiful and beyond courageous man” and a “true hero”, after a 90-minute conversation.
“Craig Kelly MP is sharing the truth over and over again and keeps moving forward without fear,” Evans wrote on Instagram, alongside a photo of a beaming Mr Kelly brandishing a thumbs-up.
Evans also again hinted at a possible political candidacy, saying he wanted to meet Mr Kelly “in Canberra in the not-too-distant future”.
Mr Kelly, too, has come under fire for posting contested COVID-19 claims on his Facebook page, questioning face masks, expert medical advice and COVID treatments. Many of his claims have been refuted categorically by Australia’s chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly and the Therapeutic Goods Administration, among other global experts.
Pete Evans shared neo-Nazi images on his platforms.
Craig Kelly compared Victoria to Nazi Germany.
— Josh Burns (@joshburnsmp) February 1, 2021
Labor MPs Tim Watts and Josh Burns were quick to criticise Mr Kelly, but the Liberal MP defended his appearance.
“I basically said to Pete Evans, ‘I disagree with what you say and I disagree with some of the things you’ve posted, however I defend your right to say those things’,” Mr Kelly told TND.
“If you’re posting wrong ideas, those ideas should be debated and challenged, rather than censored. That’s the way, in a democratic society, you get to the truth.”
Just hours earlier, Labor’s health spokesman Mark Butler had labelled Mr Kelly a “dangerous menace” over his social media activity.
When asked if he subscribed to the Qanon conspiracy theory, considering Evans’ prior posts about the topic, Mr Kelly said he “categorically” did not.
“Someone had to explain to me what Qanon actually was. I haven’t followed it, don’t understand it. To be honest, I still don’t understand it,” he said.
“As I understand it, it’s some crazy conspiracy theory.”
Mr Kelly also said he looked forward to standing for election as the Liberal candidate for Hughes at the next poll, and welcomed Mr Morrison’s “great job” comments.
“Great to have the Prime Minister’s support. We get on very well. I’ve been here for 10 years, and I think the team under Scott is the most united that it’s ever been since I’ve been in the place,” he added.
Mr Kelly has been on a personal crusade to promote hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug briefly boosted by former US president Donald Trump, and ivermectin, an anti-parasitic treatment, for coronavirus.
Both treatments have been repeatedly shot down by local and global health experts, including the TGA.