Tensions have spectacularly boiled over in the halls of Parliament, with Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek and Craig Kelly squaring up in a heated argument over the Coalition MP’s debunked and “dangerous” claims about COVID.
Ms Plibersek quipped that he was “a taxpayer-funded nong”, while Mr Kelly claims “a dozen” Coalition politicians backed him privately – even after his 90-minute appearance on a podcast from disgraced celebrity chef Pete Evans.
Both politicians were in the federal press gallery corridor early on Wednesday, for separate interviews. They crossed paths and immediately fired up, with Ms Plibersek – Labor’s shadow minister for education – slamming Mr Kelly for “spreading crazy conspiracy theories”.
Mr Kelly fired back, claiming Labor had “smeared” him with claims that his controversial Facebook posts – spreading disputed medical claims that have been repeatedly shot down by Australia’s leading government health officials – are “misinformation”.
— Eliza Edwards (@ElizaEdNews) February 2, 2021
Many Labor MPs had slammed Mr Kelly in recent days. Labor’s health spokesman, Mark Butler, claimed “Craig Kelly is a dangerous menace and a threat to the nation’s COVID response”.
On Wednesday, Ms Plibersek held an informal ‘doorstop’ in the press gallery corridor, after an interview on Sky News. She had called out Mr Kelly’s COVID claims, including that making children wear face masks was “child abuse”.
Mr Kelly, coincidentally, had been walking down the same corridor on his way to an interview with the Nine Network. The pair came face-to-face, and Ms Plibersek criticised the member for Hughes.
She said her mother, brother and other family members lived in his electorate, and said she didn’t want them at risk of COVID
“The government is spending $24 million on a campaign telling people to get vaccinated, and we’ve got a taxpayer funded nong running around telling people not to,” Ms Plibersek said at her press conference.
“I don’t want them going to the shops, getting in contact with people who’ve refused to be vaccinated because their local MP is spreading conspiracy theories on the internet … he needs to shut up.”
Liberal MP Craig Kelly and Shadow Minister Tanya Plibersek clash in the press gallery as she accuses him of spreading Covid-19 conspiracy theories #auspol #COVID19 @9NewsAUS (he’s appearing now on @TheTodayShow ) pic.twitter.com/ylMaNLhAxB
— Fiona Willan (@Fi_Willan) February 2, 2021
In his own press conference shortly after the confrontation, Mr Kelly claimed it was “slanderous” to say he was spreading misinformation. On his Facebook page, which regularly gains more interactions and reach than other senior ministers and opposition spokespeople, Mr Kelly posts multiple times a day in support of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin as potential COVID treatments.
Both treatments have been repeatedly shot down by local and global health experts, including Australia’s chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly and the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
Mr Kelly said Prime Minister Scott Morrison had called him on Tuesday afternoon, to ask if he was an anti-vaxxer. Mr Kelly said no.
Mr Morrison has been under pressure from the Labor opposition to publicly chastise Mr Kelly and shoot down his claims. The PM has been reluctant to do so, instead sharing general advice like “don’t go to Facebook to find out about the vaccine” and “go to official government websites” when asked about his rogue MP.
On Monday, Mr Morrison said Mr Kelly “does a great job” as member for Hughes.
Mr Kelly said on Wednesday that while his opinions are “unpopular”, that “a dozen” Coalition MPs had privately expressed support for his crusade.
He also defended his appearance on Mr Evans’ podcast. Mr Kelly said Mr Evans “has done things wrong, done silly things” but repeated earlier defences that he believed in debating people he disagreed with.