In the good old days, conspiracy theories were mostly limited to when your uncle had too much to drink at family dinners and would whisper unbelievable things with undue confidence such as: “The world is flat.” Or, “The moon landing was faked, and I don’t care how many people Buzz Aldrin punches." By Sami Shah.

Hosing down reckless Kelly

In the good old days, conspiracy theories were mostly limited to when your uncle had too much to drink at family dinners and would whisper unbelievable things with undue confidence such as:

“The world is flat.”

Or, “The moon landing was faked, and I don’t care how many people Buzz Aldrin punches.”

Or, “Labor will win the next election because their current strategy of being centrists is working.”

Or, “Prime Minister Scott Morrison will condemn white supremacist, anti-vax parliamentarians who are undermining the health and safety of the whole nation.”

You know, crazy stuff.

Liberal Party MP Craig Kelly instead posts his theories to thousands of followers on Facebook, spruiking the restorative powers of hydroxychloroquine with the passion and zeal of a recent divorcee who has sunk their life savings into opening an F45 franchise. Each of his posts is preceded by a diatribe about how brave he is for speaking truth to power. The comments section is filled with responses from middle-aged white ladies with names such as Chantal and Maureen, ostensibly taking time off from yelling at Asian students on buses, who call Kelly their hero in RANDOMLY capitalised sentences ABOUT the ABC being part of THE great RESET.

Not content with preaching to his own audience, Kelly has even appeared on the podcast of Pete Evans, celebrity chef turned 5G truther. Evans took time out from posting Nazi memes on Instagram to describe Kelly as a “beautiful and beyond courageous man”, which suggests a misunderstanding of the meaning of both those adjectives. Kelly – who has the face of the mayor in a Stephen King story about demons taking over a small town, only for the residents to discover the real demon was the mayor all along – shrugged off criticism about his appearance on the podcast. The defender of free speech, who regularly blocks dissenting voices from his Facebook page, claimed he was supporting Evans, a “victim of cancel culture”, in contrast with his disregard for the victims of Covid-19.

Support for Craig Kelly in his own party has been mixed, with most of the Coalition who don’t care about bothersome bullshit such as ethics choosing to ignore or tacitly endorse his behaviour. Barnaby Joyce said he got along “all right” with Kelly, surprising no one with the company he keeps. When asked if he thinks the prime minister should silence Kelly, Joyce said that “would just be poking the bear”, marking the first time any Coalition politician has acknowledged the scientific principle of cause and effect.

When questioned about Kelly’s continued love of alternative treatments for Covid-19, Scott Morrison said his government had been very clear about not getting information from Facebook but from official government websites. This, of course, signals a change of tack for the Liberal Party, which hired digital marketing firm Topham Guerin to try to influence the most recent federal election with an avalanche of Facebook posts. The prime minister went on to say that Kelly was “not my doctor and he’s not yours”, a quote likely to upend “I don’t hold a hose” as the most popular lower back tattoo for Young Liberals. With that bold condemnation of a conspiracy theorist in his ranks behind him, the prime minister is now free to spend more time believing in a church that proudly claims its members are protected from disease by prayer.

In Morrison’s defence, he did finally contact Craig Kelly and lecture him on the irresponsible Facebook posts, prompting a press release from Kelly backing the rollout of the vaccine. It seems, in future, Kelly will be limited to dangerous disinformation such as climate change denial only.

Pride and prejudice

Much like the woman who called me a “curry muncher” on a date a few years ago, then refused to accept it was a racial slur, Eddie McGuire came out swinging after revelations from a report into racism at Collingwood were leaked to the media. McGuire claimed it was a “proud day” for the club, but did not clarify if the source of his pride was how successful the club had been at racism, or how successful he’d been at personally denying and ignoring that racism.

Unlike my date, however, McGuire has since apologised for using the phrase “proud day”, adding to apologies (or half-apologies) he’s issued for the time he said Adam Goodes should promote King Kong, when he joked about drowning AFL journalist Caroline Wilson, when he made homophobic remarks about male figure skaters, called John Eren a “Mussie”, asked when he should be “boning” Nine Network presenter Jessica Rowe and called Western Sydney “the land of the falafel”. Safe to say fears about the career prospects of the president of the Collingwood Football Club, Fox Footy commentator, columnist and host of a nationally televised game show are pretty much unfounded.

Queensland senator Matt Canavan – who three weeks ago jumped to Nationals colleague Michael McCormack’s defence for saying “all lives matter” by arguing the acting PM was “speaking common sense”, describing Black Lives Matter as a debased movement – has now turned his attention to McGuire. Canavan has designated himself as a human shield against accusations of racism, perhaps due to the way all insight and empathy just bounce off him. Defending McGuire, he said he didn’t believe the report had much evidence of racist conduct. He then admitted to not having read the report, but “read the reports about the report”.

Meanwhile, I read a report about a report, wrapped in a report, folded into another report, shoved into yet another report, then the whole thing was boxed in a bigger report, which was mailed off to the minister of reports who read it out to me over a phone line made of tin cans and a length of fishing wire, which said Matt Canavan probably shouldn’t be talking about reports he hasn’t read. But then no politician in Australian history has been punished for lacking the basic research skills of a third grader with an assignment on composting due next week.

And if all of human history is anything to go by, Collingwood will now pat itself on the back for its brave stance against racism by having acknowledged there was once racism committed in their past, then move on without actually making any changes. That sound you hear is Héritier Lumumba sighing in exhaustion.

Searching in the darkness

If Google does indeed abandon our shores, as it’s threatening to do, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has said Australians could see a major presence developed here by Bing. This is exciting for everyone currently setting up their profile on Myspace, emailing with a Yahoo! Mail account and sending messages with ICQ.

Bing’s popularity with the government does make a lot more sense when you take into account a Stanford study from December 2019, which found that Bing returns disinformation, conspiracy theories and white supremacist content at an alarming rate, even in comparison with Google. Out of 600 results for 12 search queries, Bing returned 125 sources of disinformation while Google returned 13.

Other search engines the Australian government is considering as replacements include MattCanavanReportsonReports.com.au, EddieMcGuireGaffes.com.au and CraigKelly.com.au.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 6, 2021 as "Gadfly: Hosing down reckless Kelly".

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Sami Shah is a multi-award-winning comedian, writer and journalist.

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