Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Dressing up the dressing down
Craig Kelly has finally been censured, or so the government would have you believe

Four images showing Tanya Plibersek and Craig Kelly in the press gallery of Parliament House this morning

Tanya Plibersek and Craig Kelly in the press gallery of Parliament House this morning (image via Twitter)

It took several months, many dangerous COVID-19 conspiracies, multiple expert condemnations, one Pete Evans podcast appearance and one corridor altercation for the prime minister to finally call Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly into his office for a “dressing down”. But it only took minutes for that alleged dressing down to be widely reported.

The maverick MP seemed to have taken things too far for Scott Morrison this morning, when he clashed with Labor’s Tanya Plibersek in the media gallery corridor over his views on COVID treatments. Kelly approached the former health minister and ended up in a three-minute argument, complete with finger wagging and rants, all caught on camera. Plibersek told Kelly that her mother lived in his electorate of Hughes, and didn’t want her exposed to people who didn’t get vaccinated because of his conspiracy mongering. But for the most part, Plibersek kept asking if Morrison agreed with him. “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask the prime minister,” Kelly replied.

Kelly, meanwhile, continued to push his claims, defending himself by citingSydney Morning Herald story, in which retired immunologist Robert Clancy said he was “absolutely right” on hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin (Clancy also said they “mustn’t be used instead of a vaccine”). He followed up the confrontation with a mini press conference, yet again questioning the official health advice and claiming at least a dozen of his colleagues had privately told him they agreed with him.

Two hours later it was widely reported that the prime minister had since “hauled Craig Kelly into his office for a dressing down” – with journalists often using almost exactly the same wording, as many Twitter users pointed out. The story appears to have been pushed out by the PM’s own office before being faithfully reported by the media, with #ThisisNotJournalism soon trending. How real or serious this “dressing down” was has also become a point of contention, following doubts over the seriousness of an earlier “dressing down” phone call (reported to have occurred on Tuesday). Kelly publicly doubted vaccines and pushed alternative treatments well into the night, both in media interviews and on his Facebook page, and told 10 News, well after the alleged Tuesday call, that he had not been told to rein it in by Morrison.

Did Morrison, who for days has been refusing to condemn Kelly when asked (or motioned, as Labor attempted on Tuesday), truly believe that Kelly went too far in his clash with Plibersek, after months of undermining the government’s health advice? Did he really, finally rebuke Kelly, or was this carefully calibrated political spin, as Morrison’s hands-off approach becomes untenable? At the very least, Morrison wanted his disapproval out there, and that must count for something.

Today’s face-to-face appears to have had some small effect, with Kelly releasing a statement saying he “agreed to support the government’s vaccine rollout which has been endorsed by the medical experts”. The statement continued: “I believe the spread of misinformation can damage the success of our public health response during the pandemic.” 

Funny that: his highly influential, highly interactive Facebook page remains littered with posts about ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, while the statement agreeing to support the vaccine rollout is nowhere to be seen.

“As well-intended as Craig may be from time to time, I think he’s got this one horribly wrong, and I just wish he’d drop off.”

Even 2GB’s Ray Hadley wishes Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly would pipe down.

“Tasmania’s forest industry is the ultimate renewable. It re-plants for the future according to a long-term plan; it helps tackle climate change by taking carbon dioxide out of the air and storing it.”

Tasmanian Forest Products Association CEO Nick Steel praises the Federal Court’s dismissal of a bid to end native forest logging in the state.

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The number of jobs lost at Australian universities during the COVID-19 pandemic – equal to 13 per cent of the sector’s pre-pandemic workforce – with borders closed and universities excluded from accessing JobKeeper.

“Australia is deeply concerned by Russian authorities’ arrest and subsequent sentencing of Alexei Navalny … We call for Mr Navalny’s immediate and unconditional release.”

Australia has called for the release of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, with Foreign Minister Marise Payne reaffirming demands for a “thorough and transparent investigation” into his poisoning.

The list

“This particular benediction, which is common in yoga circles around the country, is a Sikh farewell blessing. Except it isn’t. It’s a line from a song by a Scottish folk singer, then living in a muddy farmhouse north of Glasgow shared by its owner with mountain climbers and ragtag itinerant musicians. The song is a 13-minute psychedelic magnum opus, an account of an acid trip that imagines life as an amoeba. Namaste. So why are wellness warriors quoting ‘A Very Cellular Song’ from The Incredible String Band’s 1968 album The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter as they towel down?”

“Generations of settler Australians were raised on the idea that there is a more or less naturally anti-authoritarian streak that runs through their national culture … However, when premiers told Australians last year to sign in, mask up or just stay inside for days – or months – on end, most Australians did as they were told. The COVID-19 public health restrictions were enforced by swarms of police officers wearing full paramilitary accoutrements. When the prime minister told them, like a disciplinarian to unruly school children, to stop panic-buying because ‘that’s not who we are’, Australians dutifully returned to buying one pack of toilet rolls at a time.”

“One of the major dysfunctions of today’s universities is that the people who do what the public think of as the core work of these institutions – that is, teaching undergraduates – are the most marginal and most precariously employed. These core workers are not seen by management or most permanent staff as employees of the university at all. But the truth is that today’s universities could not function without their casual workforce, and this presents an industrial opportunity for casuals. That the University of Melbourne was so quick to settle with its casuals suggests they know this.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

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