Banned from Facebook, rogue MP Craig Kelly is now turning to old-fashioned emails to share “false” vaccine claims, spamming thousands of federal politicians and their staff with discredited articles on COVID-19.
Some of Mr Kelly’s colleagues have rubbished his claims and are automatically sending his emails to the junk folder, but regular Australians should brace for bombardment from the Member for Hughes.
Despite countless citizens this weekend receiving unsolicited texts from Mr Kelly and the United Australia Party he recently joined, Australia’s media regulator says it is powerless to stop the flood of spam messages, as politicians are exempt from such advertising rules.
“There’s no purchasing of contact lists,” said Mr Kelly, when contacted by The New Daily.
“People are asking if someone sold their private information. It’s just a random number selector.”
Oxford University refutes ‘false claims’
Mr Kelly quit the Liberal Party over his commitment to advocating for unproven COVID treatments like Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine.
Facebook and Instagram later deleted his account, while Twitter briefly suspended him for COVID “misinformation”.
But one platform without the same content moderation rules is still available to him.
The parliamentary email system.
At least twice in the past month, Mr Kelly has sent mass emails to every MP and Senator in federal Parliament, using a blanket internal list that automatically includes all politicians.
His emails have included studies that cast doubt on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.
On Friday, he sent an email with the subject line “A Second Opinion” to every member, senator and their staff – a list spanning more than 2100 people – sharing a link to an article on The Defender, a blog owned by vaccine sceptic group Children’s Health Defense, which is chaired by prominent anti-vaccine campaigner Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
The article, written by Dr Peter A. McCullough, claimed a new pre-print study in The Lancet medical journal had found vaccinated people carried more load of the COVID virus in their nose than unvaccinated people.
“As is often said, ‘When the facts change, I change my opinion, what do you sir?’ [sic]” Mr Kelly wrote in his email, seen by TND, alongside the link.
However, the authors of the study – the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit – issued a blunt statement on Sunday, claiming The Defender‘s article included a “false claim” and “misrepresentation of the data”.
They said the study compared people infected with the Delta strain against “cases infected with the original SARS-CoV-2 strains” – not the vaccinated against the unvaccinated.
“The differences in viral load were driven by the ability of the Delta variant to cause higher viral loads; they had nothing to do with the vaccination status of the infected individual,” the clarification read.
“There is overwhelming evidence for the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing severe disease and death from COVID-19. Our study provides no evidence to the contrary.”
The Associated Press quoted a senior communications officer for the research unit saying it did not support “any statement” shared in McCullough’s article and is working to report social media posts sharing the false information.
Kelly sends ‘spamming’ emails
Mr Kelly’s colleagues were also unhappy about receiving his email, with several using the reply-all function to criticise his use of the email system and question his source material.
“Can I please ask you to have someone with a science degree interpret the findings of studies before you form a view and promote this view to others,” replied Coalition senator Sam McMahon, a veterinary surgeon for 30 years before entering Parliament.
“It compared vaccinated people with delta strain to vaccinated people with older strains. It did not, as you claim, compare vaccinated to unvaccinated.”
Mr Kelly responded: “It’s great that you replied … I personally hope that you are correct, because if McCullough has it right, God help us given the current policy direction.”
Dr McMahon, who said she had experience in peer-reviewing scientific papers, told TND that Mr Kelly’s interpretation of the data was “off the mark”.
“It’s one of my pet peeves when someone without a scientific background tries to interpret scientific studies and gets it horribly wrong,” she said.
Labor MP Josh Burns was even more blunt in his response to Mr Kelly’s email.
“This reply is to let you know I have created a rule to automatically move all emails from you to the junk folder. There is no need to reply to this email as it will go straight to the junk folder. Have a lovely day,” the Member for Macnamara wrote.
Labor MP Tim Watts previously criticised Mr Kelly for “mass spamming his Parliamentary colleagues” after an earlier email on August 5.
TND shared the Oxford University clarification with Mr Kelly.
In an interview, he said “if experts are disagreeing, that should be debated”.
“They [Oxford University] have a different opinion to McCullough. That’s all the more reason we should have a debate. If he’s wrong, let’s debate that,” Mr Kelly said.
“What I object to is people saying ‘don’t send me this’. It runs contrary to what we know about a democratic system.”
UAP defiant on unsolicited texts
Many people across the nation may also be saying “don’t send me this”, after receiving unsolicited texts from Mr Kelly and the United Australia Party last weekend.
“You can never trust the Liberals, Labor or Greens again,” the messages read, with an authorisation in Mr Kelly’s name and a link to the UAP website.
The MP last week pledged he would “front” the party’s ad rollout, which involved a massive $80 million campaign across TV, radio, print and billboards at the 2019 election.
Mr Kelly said the UAP would soon be “using every media avenue we possibly can”.
“Labor and Liberal gave parties the ability to use mass texts… we’re going to play by their rules,” he said.
Following widespread annoyance online over the weekend, the Australian Communications and Media Authority issued a statement to say the UAP was within its rights to send the texts.
“Messages from political parties … are exempt from most spam and telemarketing rules,” ACMA said.
“If an email or SMS is not commercial, the sender does not need your permission to send you a message.”
Mr Kelly denied claims the UAP had purchased or used a specific list of phone numbers to carry out the texting campaign, claiming it instead used a “random number selector” program to automatically send texts.
A UAP spokesperson said he was unable to answer technical questions on the advertising, but said anyone “who is annoyed by these texts should lobby both the Liberal and Labor [parties] to change the laws that they created and passed”.