Liberal-turned-independent politician Craig Kelly has jumped ship to Clive Palmer’s political party, promising the mining magnate will pour tens of millions of dollars into the next election campaign.
Mr Kelly, who was forced to quit the government for his support for discredited COVID “treatments” and opposition to COVID measures, claimed he would set United Australia Party policies, focusing on an anti-lockdown platform.
“I believe we will have massive support across the nation,” the Member for Hughes said at a Parliament House press conference on Monday morning.
“The United Australia Party will be fighting to end the lockdowns, and to offer an alternate approach to the mayhem and destruction that is the policies of both the Labor and Liberal parties.”
Craig Kelly MP has been appointed leader of the United Australia Party, vowing to protect the Constitution and provide a true alternative to the failed two-party system. #auspol pic.twitter.com/0zZcIdIIoG
— United Australia (@UnitedAusParty) August 23, 2021
It had been rumoured in Canberra circles for some time that Mr Kelly could join UAP after he and Mr Palmer were spotted together inside Parliament in May.
It had also been speculated Mr Kelly might join Rod Culleton’s Great Australia Party, after also being spotted with star candidate Pete Evans in Parliament.
The Australian reported Mr Palmer would “bankroll” Mr Kelly’s re-election campaign as an independent, and his plans to sue Facebook for defamation after the MP was barred from the social media platform over COVID “misinformation”.
At the time, a spokesperson for Mr Palmer refused to comment on the report or any financial aid to Mr Kelly, saying the mining magnate’s meeting was about “just catching up with friends – nothing more”.
But Mr Kelly confirmed the switch on Monday, saying he would be the party’s official leader and set its policies. Mr Palmer, he said, would continue as the party’s chairman.
“I’ll be the one giving the policy direction, I’ll be the front of the advertising campaign,” Mr Kelly said.
In a statement to The New Daily, a spokesperson for Mr Palmer claimed COVID suppression measures were “hopeless efforts” by politicians “to lock people up and rob them of their freedom and liberties”.
“We can never trust the Liberal or Labor parties again,” Mr Palmer said.
Mr Kelly said the party’s policies would include opposing vaccine passports, lockdowns and border closures.
TND asked the rogue MP how much money Mr Palmer would commit to the next election campaign.
A federal election must be held by May 2022, with March now considered most likely.
“As much as we need, and it will be similar or more to the last election,” Mr Kelly said.
Mr Palmer was reported to have spent about $83 million in the 2019 campaign, including running dozens of candidates across Australia and a carpet-bombing advertising campaign of bright yellow ads on TV, radio, print and billboards.
Mr Palmer’s UAP won just 3.43 per cent of the first preference vote at the poll, and failed to pick up a single seat.
However, the advertising campaign – relentlessly negative against then-opposition leader Bill Shorten – was credited by many as helping the Coalition to victory.
Mr Kelly claimed the UAP would run candidates in all 151 lower house seats, and also in the Senate. Mr Palmer has made that pledge at previous elections, but did not end up fielding a full complement of candidates.
Mr Kelly said Mr Palmer would not run in 2022, but claimed he had been in touch with other sitting federal MPs about potentially also joining UAP. He did not name any names.
“I believe there are many people in the current government that are very disappointed in the current government … and are looking at other options,” he claimed.
In a press conference that frequently became testy, as journalists peppered Mr Kelly with questions about his opposition to COVID measures and his scepticism about vaccinations, the MP also revealed he had not yet had a jab.
Mr Kelly denied he was an “anti-vaxxer”. As proof, he showed a photo of him receiving a flu vaccination from several years ago.
Mr Kelly also claimed he and UAP would soon commence a case in the High Court to challenge state border closures under COVID restrictions.
Mr Palmer was unsuccessful in a similar case, over Western Australia’s border in November.
Mr Palmer has already conducted an advertising blitz in newspapers and on radio, against border measures. Several federal MPs have pleaded with major newspaper organisations to reject the ads.
Mr Palmer has also been warned by the Therapeutic Goods Administration over the ad campaign.