Craig Kelly quits Liberals party
Scott Morrison was blindsided by controversial backbencher Craig Kelly quitting the Liberal Party to sit on the crossbench.
Mr Kelly made the announcement at a joint party-room meeting on Tuesday morning, but confirmed he would continue to support the government in terms of supply.
The Prime Minister was not given prior warning of the resignation, which cuts the government’s majority in the House of Representatives to a single vote.
But Mr Morrison insisted his government remained stable.
“There are no changes required as a result of the announcement. The government will continue to function, as it has successfully,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
“As the government has led Australia through the worst situation we’ve seen since the Second World War, we will continue to do so undistracted.
“We’ll be able to do so with the support of the parliament from the very undertakings that the member for Hughes has indicated publicly.”
Mr Kelly defied the Prime Minister by repeatedly touting questionable treatments for COVID-19, which cut against advice from the federal health authorities.
He continued to do so after a conversation sources close to the Prime Minister described as a “dressing down”.
“I set out very clear expectations on a range of matters that I expected Craig to follow through on,” Mr Morrison said.
“He’d given me a number of commitments in relation to that. He no longer felt that he could meet those commitments and, as a result, he’s made his decision today.”
Mr Kelly’s grip on the NSW seat of Hughes came under question amid a backlash against the behaviour.
Mr Morrison intervened before the 2019 election to ensure Mr Kelly was preselected for the seat, after the backbencher threatened to move to the crossbench.
The prime minister did not confirm whether Mr Kelly sought assurances of his preselection ahead of the next election.
“The matter of his preselection is a matter for him in the Liberal Party, but that is no longer an issue because he has resigned from the Liberal Party,” he said.
Mr Kelly earlier said he did not take the decision lightly.
“I’ve done this with a very heavy heart,” Mr Kelly told Sky News.
“If I’m best to represent the constituents of my area and be faithful to the oath that I took … and to be able to speak frankly and fearlessly, I need to do that from the crossbench rather than from the government benches.”
A government source said the resignation was sparked by Mr Kelly’s failure to sack a staffer facing multiple facing multiple accusations of inappropriate behaviour towards women in the workplace, according to Sky News.
The man, a senior aide to Mr Kelly, continued to work in his office despite multiple allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour, and being subject to an apprehended violence order.
“I have long expressed to Mr Kelly my concerns about that staff member and he has long understood what my expectations were about how he would deal with that matter,” Mr Morrison said.
The move sparked speculation Mr Kelly could cross the Coalition party room to join the National Party, given his close ties to George Christensen and former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce.
Mr Morrison said he did not expect that prospect to become reality, but said it was a matter for Mr Kelly.
Mr Kelly insisted he held no ill will towards the Prime Minister and the government would “continue as it was”.
“I have the greatest respect for Scott Morrison. I hope he goes on to be one of the longest serving and greatest prime ministers,” he said.
“I just feel that if I’m to speak and to use my voice the best I can, this is the best decision for myself and for the people that I represent.”
He was banned by Facebook last week for a seven days for violating the social media giant’s COVID-19 misinformation rules.
The prime minister refused to rebuke Mr Kelly publicly for weeks, simply urging Australians to follow official health advice.
But after Mr Kelly appeared on a podcast hosted by COVID-19 conspiracy theorist Pete Evans, sources close to Mr Morrison said the backbencher had been given a “dressing down” by the Prime Minister.
But the backbencher continued to tout questionable treatments, despite releasing a statement agreeing to support the government’s rollout plan.