Craig Kelly, one of the proudest and most vocal climate change deniers in federal parliament, has left the Liberal Party to become an independent MP.
The move comes a few weeks after he received a dressing down from Prime Minister Scott Morrison for promoting discredited treatments for COVID-19, including hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin.
In a resignation letter to the PM, Kelly said he was following his “conscious” (sic) in leaving the party, saying his goal in promoting hydroxychloroquine had “only been to save lives”. He said he would continue to support the government on supply and confidence.
“I see that if I’m to continue to act in line with my conscious [sic] and principles, and the oath that I took on becoming a member of parliament, and to speak fearlessly and faithfully represent my constituents, I have no alternative other than to resign as a member of the Liberal Party effective immediately and for the rest of the parliamentary term, to sit on the crossbenches as an independent,” he wrote.
The move, though, could be strategic, as it will mean he will be able to run for his Sydney seat of Hughes as an independent. He was looking increasingly certain to lose Liberal preselection for the seat in south-west Sydney.
Kelly’s departure means the government has lost its working majority, with just 75 seats in the lower house not including speaker Tony Smith. However, Kelly’s promise to support matters of supply and confidence will mean Morrison’s government is not under threat.
While it was Kelly’s position on COVID-19 that drew the most negative attention in recent weeks and prompted his resignation, his position on climate change has been an ongoing source of controversy.
Unlike some climate “sceptics” in the Coalition who pay lip service to the science, Kelly’s position has been one of unashamed denial.
In a Facebook post on December last year, for instance, he declared 2020 “the year of cooling”, claiming the average global temperature had fallen 0.5 per cent in 2020.
His Facebook page displays a steady stream of posts questioning climate science and pooh-poohing efforts to reduce emissions. These sassy posts are often furnished with facts that appear to prove that climate change is not a problem, and that those who claim it is have cherry picked the facts to suit their “alarmist” agenda.
In a post on January 30, for example, he said: “Climate Alarmist’s who try to frighten gullible children about “melting sea ice” do so by cherry-picking the year 1979 to start their alarmist graphs – and just co-incidentally the highest sea ice volume of the last 100 years was about 1979. Fancy that.”
The same day he posted a picture of a car buried in snow, with the caption: “We must urgently provide more subsidies for electric cars.”
On February 1 this year he posted: “Mindless Climate Alarmism is causing untold damage to children’s mental health. Children need the truth; that their generation is the safest ever in all human history from climate disasters – THANKS to fossil fuels.”
On the same day he posted a picture of a rain storm in Canberra, with the caption: “With parliament starting up tomorrow, and some MP’s believing that all powerful governments can control droughts by subsidising the importation of solar panels from China (with their green rent-seeking mates clipping the ticket along the way), Mother Nature decided to put on a show to remind us who is in charge.”
Kelly achieved international fame during the height of the Black Summer bushfires last year, when appeared on British TV to downplay links between the bushfires and climate change. This drew a heated response from presenter Piers Morgan, hardly known for progressive politics – illustrating the unusual degree to which climate denialism remains acceptable in the Australian political mainstream.
News.com.au’s political reporter Samantha Maiden reported that, following Kelly’s delivery of his resignation letter, Nationals MP and equally proud climate denier Barnaby Joyce left the Coalition meeting to chase Kelly down the hall – from which she inferred a move to the Nationals could be on the cards.
James Fernyhough is a reporter at RenewEconomy. He has worked at The Australian Financial Review and the Financial Times, and is interested in all things related to climate change and the transition to a low-carbon economy.