Australia’s chief medical officer has rejected unproven claims about Covid-19 treatments by Liberal MP Craig Kelly, as former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull weighs in, calling on the leaders of the government to do more to counter misinformation.
Paul Kelly rebuked the member for Hughes on Wednesday afternoon, saying there was “no evidence” anti-parasitic drug ivermectin is useful in combatting Covid-19 and he did not want to give prominence “to views that I just don’t agree with and are not scientifically based”.
The criticism goes further than government leaders, including the acting prime minister, Michael McCormack, and health minister, Greg Hunt, in rejecting Kelly’s views, as has been demanded by doctors and now by Turnbull.
Pressure on Kelly has increased, with Labor and the Greens both calling for him to lose his position as chair of the parliamentary joint committee on law enforcement over his medical views and claims antifa might have been present in the US Capitol mob.
Throughout 2020, Craig Kelly championed the use of hydroxycholoroquine to treat Covid despite the most reputable global studies finding it was ineffective as a treatment, and could have severe and even deadly side effects if used inappropriately.
More recently, Kelly has advocated the use of ivermectin and antiseptic Betadine, and caused controversy by likening requiring children to wear masks to child abuse.
On Wednesday, Turnbull said that people have to be held responsible for what they say and “at the very least” his successor Scott Morrison, McCormack and Hunt should say that “Craig Kelly is wrong and that it is reckless and irresponsible to be misleading the Australian public on matters of public health”.
“Free speech, sure, but that doesn’t mean that just because somebody is exercising their right of free speech, it should go without comment or criticism,” he told ABC News Breakfast.
“And if you have got a member of parliament pedalling misleading and dangerous information, then that, at the very least, needs to be called out and condemned and contradicted by the government.”
The chief medical officer told reporters in Canberra that while ivermectin could treat parasitic diseases including scabies and river blindness, “there is no evidence at the moment that it has any benefit or use in the prevention or treatment of Covid-19”.
Paul Kelly said there had been “many studies” into hydroxychloroquine and “at this point there is no evidence it is useful” for prevention or treatment of Covid-19.
“[Craig Kelly] needs to decide what is the appropriate thing for a member of parliament to comment on.
“I won’t talk further about this – because it gives prominence to views that I just don’t agree with and are not scientifically based.”
Brendan O’Connor, the acting shadow attorney general, has called on Kelly to resign or be sacked from his $23,000 a year position as chair of the law enforcement committee.
In a statement, O’Connor said Kelly had issued an “endless stream of bizarre and offensive posts” about the US Capitol riot, in reference to discredited claims of antifa’s involvement.
The acting Greens leader, Nick McKim, similarly called on him to resign over “wack-job conspiracy theories” including his claims about Covid treatments, antifa and climate change.
On Tuesday the Australian Medical Association vice-president, Dr Chris Moy, called on McCormack and Morrison to counter misinformation from politicians, celebrities and others who were “torching the foundation of community health and science”.
“Hopefully we can get the leaders being very strong and clear in their advice and strong about supporting science,” Moy told Guardian Australia.
In his week as acting prime minister, McCormack has said that he does not agree with Kelly that face masks are child abuse but the comments are a matter for Kelly.
“I’m not in favour of censorship,” he said. “I’m a former newspaper editor. I don’t believe in censorship.”
The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, told reporters in Melbourne that although “there’ll be very different views, we listen to our medical advisers”.
The Morrison government has previously shut down attempts by Labor to censure the controversial MP over his comments and Kelly stands by his advocacy for the drug.
Kelly’s preselection as Liberal candidate for Hughes had been threatened by his local branch before the 2019 election, but he was saved by intervention from Morrison.