Australia

Craig Kelly: From the fringes of the Liberal Party to the UAP captain’s pick

He’s been described as a “menace” by the Labor Party, has been dressed down by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and was last month egged by a member of the public.

Now, the controversial member of Hughes is leading the United Australia Party. Here’s a look back at how he landed the United Australia Party’s (UAP) top job, and what Mr Kelly has been campaigning for.

Leaving the Liberal Party for the United Australia Party

Mr Kelly has led the UAP since August 2021.
He initially entered politics as a member of the Liberal Party and was elected into the House of Representatives in 2010 in the electorate of Hughes. But since his last success in 2019, the country has dealt with a pandemic. And government responses including lockdowns and vaccination mandates fractured the relationship between Mr Kelly and his former Party.
There were several clashes in February last year between Mr Kelly and the Liberal Party after the MP spouted unfounded COVID-19 claims and vaccine misinformation, against expert medical advice. The MP spruiked drugs like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, claiming they were useful in preventing or treating COVID-19. It later saw him permanently banned from Facebook.

On one occasion, there was a confrontation between Labor MP Tanya Plibersek in the corridors of Parliament’s press gallery. She rubbished Mr Kelly for his “conspiracy theories,” after he endorsed unproven drugs to treat COVID-19.

“We’re spending $24 million on a campaign to tell people to get vaccinated and we’ve got a taxpayer-funded nong running around telling people not to,” Ms Plibersek said.
After the clash, the prime minister hauled Mr Kelly into his office for a dressing down.
When private attempts failed to pull Mr Kelly in line with the party’s position, Mr Morrison publicly distanced himself from the then-backbencher, telling Parliament that the views of Mr Kelly did not “align with my views, or the views and the advice that has been provided to me by the chief medical officer”.

By the end of February 2021, Mr Kelly had quit the Liberal Party to become an independent MP.

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In August 2021, it was announced that he would not only be joining the UAP but he would also lead the Party.
On the UAP website, Mr Kelly said he had become “disillusioned by the Liberal Party during his time in office” and the pandemic response had “deeply eroded his faith in Australia’s government, as he saw, in real time, our freedoms being ripped away”.
His move to join the UAP could help him put a stop to the “atrocities,” the statement on his website adds.

After the move, Mr Kelly was thrust back into the public eye when he spammed Australians with messages about adverse vaccine reactions in September 2021. Shortly after, Mr Kelly was hit with a cease and desist letter from the Therapeutic Goods Administration which accused the MP of breaching copyright and misleading the public.

A man sits beside protestors.

United Australia Party leader Craig Kelly (C) with anti-mandatory vaccine protesters he signed into Parliament House. Source: AAP

More recently, in February of this year, Mr Kelly to the prime minister.

What are the UAP’s election promises?

With former party leader and mining magnate Clive Palmer as chairman of the UAP, Mr Kelly is dreaming big with some bold campaign signs calling him “the next prime minister”.
Some campaign videos have almost 25 million views.
At the UAP’s federal campaign launch on the Sunshine Coast last month, the party leader vowed to fight for “freedom”.
“When elected to government the first matter on the agenda of the United Australia Party will be an enactment of an Australian Bill of Rights,” he said at the launch.

“We will outlaw lockdowns, protect the rights of all Australians to choose their medical treatment, and to preserve freedom of speech.”

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Among the other promises, most visibly splashed on yellow billboards, are pledges to cap mortgage interest rates at 3 per cent over the next five years, despite benchmark rates being set by the independent Reserve Bank.

There are also pledges to “bring Australian super home” investing funds locally, and introduce a 15 per cent license on all iron ore exports with the proceeds used to retire debt in Australia.

Craig Kelly from UAP standing in front of a 'Free Speech' logo

United Australia Party (UAP) leader Craig Kelly during the UAP’s campaign launch on the Sunshine Coast, 16 April, 2022. Source: AAP / DARREN ENGLAND/AAPIMAGE

Also on the UAP hit list: abolishing the National Cabinet and banning content moderation on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter which it labels “foreign interference” and “censorship”.

The Party is also seeking to increase the age pension by $180 a fortnight, give $40 billion to the healthcare sector, and abolish HECS debt.

Is Craig Kelly likely to win in the seat of Hughes?

In the south Sydney seat of Hughes, Mr Kelly has won four consecutive elections as a Liberal candidate. In the last election, it was by a margin of 9.9 per cent and has been considered a safe Liberal seat. The electorate has voted in a Liberal candidate since 1996.

Currently, Jenny Ware is the Liberal candidate challenging Mr Kelly for the seat. Ms Ware has worked as a senior legal executive in both the public and private sector, as a government director, and says she has contributed to local community organisations.

CRAIG KELLY standing making announcement to supporters

United Australia Party leader Craig Kelly speaks to supporters at Elder Park in Adelaide on 10 April. Source: AAP / MATT TURNER/AAPIMAGE

The second-highest first preference vote in the 2019 election went to the Labor candidate. This year, the Labor candidate is Riley Campbell who says he has personal experience with the NDIS and aged care system. Mr Campbell has also worked in local government and sat on a number of committees.

In 2019, the UAP candidate only secured 2.5 per cent of votes in Hughes, compared to a 53.2 per cent vote for the Liberal candidate, and 30.5 per cent for the Labor candidate.

Speaking in Brisbane during election week, the UAP leader said the party was pining for all 151 seats across the nation but did not specify which were more likely.

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