Australia's conservative prime minister was forced to bring a vocal party lawmaker to task on Wednesday for spreading pandemic disinformation, after a string of comments that threatened to undermine public safety.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison summoned Sydney Member of Parliament Craig Kelly after months of false claims that questioned the safety of coronavirus vaccines, opposed lockdowns and promoted unproven treatments.
In a statement after the face-to-face, Kelly said he “agreed to support the government’s vaccine rollout, which has been endorsed by medical experts”.
“I believe that the spread of misinformation can damage the success of our public health response during the pandemic,” he said in a statement.
Mostly Covid-free Australia has yet to begin its vaccine rollout.
Public opinion polls show around three-in-four Australians intend to get vaccinated, but misinformation is widespread on prominent media platforms.
Kelly has routinely backed the use of Malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and headlice medication ivermectin as Covid-19 treatments and endorsed other unsubstantiated theories spreading widely in the United States.
Despite his claims being publicly rejected by Australia’s chief medical officer, Kelly’s Facebook following has doubled over the past year, amid regular virus screeds.
Kelly’s Facebook account — which had around six million video views and five million interactions in the past year according to data tool CrowdTangle — currently bears a warning from the social media platform about potential Covid-19 misinformation.
In recent weeks, Morrison’s Liberal Party has come under increasing pressure from health professionals and other political parties to sanction Kelly, who has also been a vocal climate change denier.
But the party has prevented efforts to sanction him in parliament.
“We’ve been very clear to point out where you get your information from. You don’t get it from Facebook,” Morrison said on Monday when asked to comment on Kelly.
“He’s not my doctor and he’s not yours. But he does a great job.”
Former centre-left prime minister Kevin Rudd called Morrison’s defence of Kelly “a national embarrassment”.