Australian MP who promoted pandemic conspiracies quits ruling party

An Australian lawmaker who promoted baseless conspiracy theories about the pandemic and vaccines has quit the ruling party
An Australian lawmaker who promoted baseless conspiracy theories about the pandemic and vaccines has quit the ruling party STEVEN SAPHORE AFP/File
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Sydney (AFP)

An Australian lawmaker who frequently peddled pandemic misinformation quit the conservative government Tuesday, weeks after being publicly dressed down by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Craig Kelly repeatedly used social media and the floor of parliament to question the safety of coronavirus vaccines, oppose lockdowns, and promote unproven Covid-19 treatments such as Malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and headlice medication ivermectin.

"I felt that for the rest of this parliamentary term, if I'm going to act and speak according to my conscience and my beliefs, that I can do so more effectively as an independent," the Sydney MP told public broadcaster ABC.

The Sydney MP informed colleagues of his decision at a party meeting in Canberra, and Morrison confirmed Kelly's departure, saying he "no longer felt that he could meet" the commitment to stop spreading misinformation.

Kelly's Facebook account -- which also frequently plays down climate change -- had around six million video views and five million interactions in 2020, according to data tool CrowdTangle.

His latest expression of "concerns" about Covid-19 treatments comes as Australia enters the second day of mass vaccination.

Public opinion polls show around three-in-four Australians intend to get vaccinated, but misinformation is widespread on prominent media platforms.