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To build vaccine confidence Morrison should knock down his sceptic MPs

Kelly urges the use of unproven drugs like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin when scientists have serious concerns about whether they work against the coronavirus.

Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly has been pushing outright lies on social media at a time when the government wants full support for an effort to vaccinate almost everyone.

Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly has been pushing outright lies on social media at a time when the government wants full support for an effort to vaccinate almost everyone.Credit:Facebook

In post after post on Facebook, he talks up these cures without any support for the major vaccines backed by scientists around the world after clinical trials have proven their success.

The effect is to sow doubt and confusion when the government wants confidence and clarity.

Yet Morrison and his cabinet ministers are too timid to call out the misinformation.

Asked on Tuesday whether he rejected Kelly’s claims, Health Minister Greg Hunt ducked the question and would not even mention the MP’s name.

When Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack was asked about Kelly’s complaints about masks, he talked about the perils of censorship rather than rebuke the MP and back the public health advice.

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This gentle treatment of misinformation has gone on too long.

When Morrison was asked about Craig Kelly’s support for hydroxychloroquine last August, the Prime Minister said: “I’m not going to get onto what people talk about on Facebook.”

As if closing your eyes to what’s on Facebook will make it go away.

Kelly is not the government. Nor is George Christensen, the Liberal National Party MP who has attacked social media companies for silencing US President Donald Trump. They are members of the legislature, not the executive. They are free to speak as they wish.

But a government that spends millions of taxpayer dollars on advertising campaigns about COVID-19 should at least be brave enough to slap down Kelly when he undermines the public health message.

Morrison and Hunt put a priority on confidence when they withdrew support for the University of Queensland vaccine last month.

“Anything that risks public confidence is too great an issue for us when we’ve got this challenge of getting our population vaccinated,” said Brendan Murphy, the secretary of the Department of Health and former chief medical officer.

Why not do the same now?

The timidity in the government is telling. Worried about support from conservatives, it will not speak up loudly enough against the conspiracy theories of the right, whether the subject is COVID-19 or the US election.

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McCormack criticises Twitter for suspending Trump rather than criticising Trump for egging on an insurrection. He then engages in the false equivalence of likening an attack on the Congress with street protests over racial justice.

Morrison would not criticise Trump, either. He would not even rebuke Kelly when given the chance five months ago to reject misinformation about COVID-19.

As the vaccinations start, this timidity has to end.

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