Described as Tony Abbott’s attack dog, far-right Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly has given a qualified apology for offending the families of the 38 Australians who died when Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine by a Russian missile system in 2014. Kelly complained that his comments were taken out of context, but, as one senior press gallery journalist tweeted this afternoon, “decide for yourself”. Kelly has struck a raw nerve, and given he is facing a very real preselection challenge from two aspiring candidates, this is a controversy he can ill afford. His main rival is former Sutherland Shire mayor Kent Johns, whom one senior Liberal says has “better than even odds, but it’s not guaranteed”. A local Liberal source says Kelly’s extreme views “do not represent the moral compass of the Shire”, and that most residents would find his comments “repugnant”.
It started on Tuesday, when Perth father Anthony Maslin, who lost his three children and their grandfather on MH17, wrote a Facebook post that was critical of Donald Trump after his fawning behaviour towards Vladimir Putin at their Helsinki meeting. The heartfelt post went viral and received widespread coverage from Fairfax to the BBC. Kelly was asked about it in this interview on Sky News yesterday and, inexplicably, decided to give the bereft father a lecture, saying “nothing” was going to “bring those three kids back”. He continued: “So what is best for the continued future of the world? And if that means some of the things that Russia has gotten away with in the past has to be slightly looked over, well I’m sorry, that’s the price that we have to pay.”
As The Australian reports [$] today, pressed several times to offer an unreserved apology to MH17 victims this morning, Kelly instead defied logic, combining “unreservedly” with “but”:
“I unreservedly apologise for any distress that I have caused to those families, but I would also say to those families as well, I have the greatest of sympathy for them, and as I said, if I was able to shirtfront President Putin myself, I would do that. The reality is that, as I said, my comments have been taken out of context, and it’s very disappointing that I see that some people have taken to get political advantage by taking those comments out of context and have also caused additional harm to those families.”
Kelly will have to get used to being disappointed because political advantage will be taken, most especially in his safe Liberal seat of Hughes. It’s been rather quiet on the NSW Liberal preselection front lately as the party makes its way through so-called endorsement meetings, a mini-preselection for sitting members, ahead of looming state and federal elections. Nominations have closed, however, and Kelly is one of four sitting Liberals subject to challenge, alongside Jason Falinski in Mackellar, Ann Sudmalis in Gilmore, and John Alexander in Bennelong. (The contested preselections are expected to take two-to-three months, and the fact that the timing is still vague is another indication that at some point we might need to take the PM at his word: as he reckons he says every day, the election will be held next year.)
Malcolm Turnbull did write a letter endorsing Craig Kelly, but this is par for the course – the party’s leader is bound to endorse the sitting MP. Aspiring candidates for Hughes had been under pressure to withdraw, but, especially after Kelly’s egregious comments yesterday, that is said to be unlikely. “Kent Johns is pretty determined to stay in the field,” says one source. “He’s withdrawn twice before, and I don’t think he’ll be persuaded again, I think that’s his mindset.”
A local Liberal source is more damning, and, referring to the Bali bombings in 2002, says the conservative people of the Shire “remember the planning of terrorist attacks against them, and would find Kelly’s comments repugnant”.
On ABC Radio’s TheWorld Today this afternoon, Paul Guard, who lost his parents on MH17, called on Turnbull to disendorse Kelly. Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese weighed in, calling Kelly “a bonehead”: “I wish the people in the Liberal Party who are challenging his preselection well, because it would be a good thing for the parliament if he was removed.”
Quite a few Liberals would no doubt agree.
since this morning
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Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
Described as Tony Abbott’s attack dog, far-right Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly has given a qualified apology for offending the families of the 38 Australians who died when Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine by a Russian missile system in 2014. Kelly complained that his comments were taken out of context, but, as one senior press gallery journalist tweeted this afternoon, “decide for yourself”. Kelly has struck a raw nerve, and given he is facing a very real preselection challenge from two aspiring candidates, this is a controversy he can ill afford. His main rival is former Sutherland Shire mayor Kent Johns, whom one senior Liberal says has “better than even odds, but it’s not guaranteed”. A local Liberal source says Kelly’s extreme views “do not represent the moral compass...