Coalition MP Craig Kelly is still posting on Facebook about controversial drug ivermectin as a COVID treatment, and his posts are still among the most popular of any Australian politician, despite a “dressing down” from the Prime Minister over his social media activity.
Mr Kelly has defended his latest Facebook posts, days after being “hauled in” to Scott Morrison’s office, claiming his online activity does not oppose the government’s official vaccination plan.
“The commitment I gave [to Mr Morrison] was to make sure none of my posts contradicted the government’s policy on vaccine rollout,” Mr Kelly told The New Daily.
After a brief hiatus, seven of Mr Kelly’s last 12 posts since the meeting with Mr Morrison have been on hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin – drugs repeatedly dismissed by local and global health experts as potential COVID treatments.
Last Wednesday, following a highly publicised confrontation with Labor shadow minister Tanya Plibersek in the halls of Parliament, Mr Kelly was sternly told by the PM that his views on COVID were potentially affecting the vaccine rollout.
Government sources told journalists that Mr Morrison asked the backbench MP to not share views that run counter to official government medical advice, and that Mr Kelly had agreed to “restrain” his social media activity – reports that were shared widely.
— Media Watch (@ABCmediawatch) February 7, 2021
It came after months of Mr Kelly, the Member for Hughes, sharing multiple Facebook posts a day in support of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin as potential COVID treatments. Both have been shot down by global experts including Australia’s chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly and the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
“The Prime Minister reinforced the importance of ensuring public confidence in the government’s vaccine strategy. I agreed to support the government’s vaccine rollout which has been endorsed by medical experts,” Mr Kelly told TND last Wednesday morning, following the meeting with Mr Morrison.
Mr Kelly did not post on Facebook for a full 24 hours between last Wednesday and Thursday. But by Thursday afternoon, he returned to post “Listen to THE expert” alongside a link to a radio interview with Professor Robert Clancy, a clinical immunologist who has said Mr Kelly was “absolutely right” in backing hydroxychloroquine.
The University of Newcastle said in a statement that it “does not consider Robert Clancy a subject matter expert on COVID-19.”
Between last Wednesday’s “dressing down” and Tuesday evening, Mr Kelly posted on Facebook 12 times. Seven of those were linked to hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin, with three touching on his scepticism regarding climate change.
The latest posts have taken a different tone than his previous ones, which often shared some of Mr Kelly’s own personal opinions alongside long excerpts from studies in foreign medical journals.
The recent posts have been shorter and more succinct, linking to mainstream news outlets like the ABC, Sky News and Herald Sun.
“Supporting medical experts right to discuss treatment with Ivermectin is not anti-vax. To the contrary, as Professor Clancy argues this should be used in concert with the vaccine,” Mr Kelly wrote on Sunday.
On Tuesday, the MP defended his recent posts.
“It’s a matter of conscience and principle. What I’m posting is not my personal opinions about this, only factual information. Everything I’ve posted has not been just my thoughts. Everything is based upon scientific evidence,” Mr Kelly told TND.
“[The posts are] not, in any way, contrary to the government’s policy on vaccine rollout. If anyone calls those things misinformation, they’re not saying I’m posting misinformation, they’re directly accusing those doctors of misinformation.”
Mr Kelly said he had told the PM he would not “contradict” the government’s vaccine rollout, and maintains his latest posts toe that line.
“My argument is they’re treatments that need to be available in concert with the vaccines,” he said.
TND approached Mr Morrison’s office for comment. They referred us to the PM’s answer in a 2SM interview on Monday, where he said “the Chief Medical Officer’s advice to me is clear and only treatments that are approved should be used.”
In a statement to Parliament last week, Mr Morrison said Mr Kelly’s thoughts “do not align with my views, or the views and the advice that has been provided to me by the Chief Medical Officer”.
On Monday, Health Minister Greg Hunt was even more blunt, saying “we are rejecting Mr Kelly’s position.”
“I would say to everybody: do what we’ve done, hold people to account against the standards of the medical expert. Reject Mr Kelly’s views, that’s what we have done,” he said.
Kelly’s social media boost
But Mr Kelly’s week of publicity and negative headlines has only seen his social media following grow. According to social media analysis tool CrowdTangle, Mr Kelly’s Facebook page has grown from 73,000 ‘likes’ to nearly 81,000 in the last month alone, a surge of 10.4 per cent.
On February 3, the day of his confrontation with Ms Plibersek and meeting with Mr Morrison, more than 2100 new people ‘liked’ Mr Kelly’s Facebook page – the biggest single-day rise in at least the last 12 months.
On Monday, among all Australian politicians, Mr Kelly had the top four posts in terms of interaction in the previous 24 hours. Three of those were around ivermectin, and the fourth questioned “the ABC’s bizarre fascination with my Facebook Page” after a segment on the broadcaster’s Insiders program.
The Aust federal pollies' Facebook posts with the most interactions on Feb 07 were from
1: Craig Kelly
2: Craig Kelly
3: Craig Kelly
4: Craig Kelly
5: Anthony Albanese
6: Anthony Albanese
7: Malcolm Roberts
8: Mark Butler
9: Jordon Steele-John
10: Richard Marles
— auspol_posts (@auspol_posts) February 8, 2021
In the past seven days, Mr Kelly had five of the top 12 posts out of every politician in federal parliament. Of the remainder, Mr Morrison had three of the top 12, and Labor leader Anthony Albanese had two.
Mr Kelly’s total Facebook following has almost doubled between February 2020 and February 2021.