Craig Kelly Q&A: The Liberal Party is a "toxic factional sewer"

INDEPENDENT: Member for Hughes Craig Kelly sitting in parliament as an independent. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
INDEPENDENT: Member for Hughes Craig Kelly sitting in parliament as an independent. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Member for Hughes Craig Kelly was sick of the "toxic factional sewer" of the Liberal Party, so he left and became independent.

Kelly sat down with The St George and Sutherland ShireLeader editor Craig Thomson for an extensive interview and he didn't hold back. He talked about his future plans and what caused the seismic split with his beloved conservative Liberal Party.

Will you run as an independent at the next election

Yes. It was a big decision to leave the Liberal Party, but one I had to make. I was elected under the Liberal Party banner, so therefore I have a contractual obligation to fulfil until the next election is called. So I've told the PM I'll support him on supply, confidence and substantial procedural motions and anything that the Liberal Party took to the election as a policy. I will still follow the basic principles of the Liberal Party as I know it, small government, individual freedoms and personal responsibility. That's how I'll see out this term and those are the causes I'll run on for the next election.

So you'll be running as a conservative independent, not a true independent?

Conservative yes. We have a lot of issues that need conservative values. We have record debt. It will hit $1 trillion in 2021-22, which is 50.5 per cent of GDP. When I first ran, we had these debt trucks running around; the Labor debt then was over 100 billion (20 per cent of GDP), and we all said how concerning it all was, now the numbers are extraordinary, that's a concern. Of course, we have COVID and we need to open the economy up. The election is not until next year, but if the PM goes early, I'll be ready and yes, I will run as a conservative independent.

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So you acknowledge the conservatives have increased the debt?

Yes, of course, and it is a concern.

Do you see yourself as a default Liberal, or will you run on a platform of things that are outside the Liberal Party playbook?

That's one of the main reasons I left. I thought some of the policies the Liberals were championing were against traditional values. I believe the Liberals have walked away from traditional conservative Liberal Party values and not me. I'll be arguing on fundamental Liberal party policies. I stepped away from the Party because they stepped away from these values. I couldn't inside the party structure articulate my point. In the party structure, you have to cop what is served up to you as a policy that comes down from the cabinet and we all have to suck it up. It became tough to argue against some of those policy shifts away from traditional conservative values. I felt I had more of a chance to put those things forward and represent actual conservative constituents a lot stronger being outside the Party.

Considering the numbers in parliament are pretty tight, would you consider crossing the floor on a vote if you disagreed with the government?

I have already done that. I indicated to the government on the veteran's royal commission. The government made it clear they were going to vote against a royal commission into veteransuicidesand I made it clear I would vote for it.

So you are saying you are the reason the government voted for the royal commission?

Yes, the fact is if all the government ministers held ground, the speaker has the casting vote. I don't think there is a precedent that the speaker would have voted against a motion from the senate, so that and my stance combined is what swayed the government to vote for it. So I've already had some success as an independent. I made it clear how I'd vote in this instance.

Scott Morrison hasn't handled current issues well, Brittany Higgins, the vaccine rollout, not showing up to the March for Justice and many more things. Do you agree with how the government has handled all these things?

A lot of things the government could have done better. It has been disappointing to see those issues and line them up against each other, which contributed to my decision to leave. I have many good mates in the Lib party room, and I didn't get any joy out of going, but they could have handled many things better.

They could have handled COVID a lot better. The individual relationship between a doctor and patient has not been honoured. We have taken the doctors right away, the doctor and the patient relationship has been taken away. The breach and interference within the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship, the doctor and you decide on what treatment you get, in combination with the states we've broken that relationship. On energy, I reckon Libs have failed on that. If you went around the party room and asked them, I'd say most people wouldn't understand the Lib policy. The government has kept subsidies going against ACCC recommendations. It has gone contrary to the reports it commissioned and are doing a lot of damage to our grid's stability. We are selling the country out to China and giving a huge advantage to China with our energy policy.

When I first got elected, we marched against a carbon tax, and now we are endorsing and increasing a hidden carbon tax on electricity; that gets under my skin. I am concerned about the submarine contracts we have. It was done for political reasons rather than common sense. If you try and take a nuclear sub and retrofit it to a diesel sub simply because we are ideologically opposed to nuclear, our price is about $7 billion for each submarine. The USA just signed a sub contract that has bigger, better subs than ours, and they paid $3 billion, so we are paying more than double for an inferior product and aren't going to get ours for 12 years.

I have a problem with the Brereton report. It throws veterans under a tank. I have constituents at the army base at Holsworthy. We've asked parents to return their dead son's medals because of an allegation, these are my constituents, and I was told not to say anything about it when I was in the Liberal Party. And now I am independent. I can speak out about all the things.

All these policy issues I had frustrations on and this is not the policy of the true liberal-conservative and I had objections to all of these policies and more, but I was told to shut up and be quiet, so I thought I want to be able to argue for these things without someone calling me and saying, "Craig, you have to shut up about that, Craig we don't want you to say anything about this, Craig, we need you to delete that post you made on Facebook." That was what was happening and I couldn't operate like that, so that's why I left. I'd much rather have 12 months fighting for the things I believe in and the things I reckon my constituents believe in than stay for another few years and be a suck-up.

Do you still support your chief of staff, Frank Zumbo, considering the allegations made against him?

These are all untested allegations. Frank has been subject to scuttlebutt and innuendo, much of which was factionally driven within the Liberal Party. As a chief of staff, you have to make hard decisions and you create enemies and in the factional toxic sewer the modern Liberal Party is that's what has happened. So I am aware of the scuttlebutt, but these specific allegations that have come up. They are all by ex-employees, disgruntled, and many of them with an axe to grind or a grudge against Frank. I wasn't aware of any of these allegations until the media contacted me. To suggest I should sack someone based on innuendo, it may be politically expedient to do so, but it would put the Commonwealth at risk of an unfair dismissal claim. You are entitled to a presumption of innocence. So I will stick with my principles that Frank is entitled to a presumption of innocence. I am told the investigations against Frank have been ongoing for 12 months, he has not been charged and the police have not spoken to me about anything. The media have sensationalised this whole thing and I'll give Frank the presumption of innocence he deserves.

You mentioned earlier the factional toxic sewer the Liberal Party has become. Aren't factions standard in any political party?

Not the Libs I joined. I hope they do more party reform. The factional toxic sewer it has become is not the Party I joined. This factionalisation of the Party is completely against its principles.

I found it appalling, many people in the Party play factional games and it makes me physically sick. The games and the backstabbing are terrible. I am well and truly pleased to have that behind me and to face the constituents as a conservative independent is something I am looking forward to doing.

With Laming and other misbehaviour of members, do you feel that strengthens your position?

Anything can happen. There is still a year to go until an election.

But you are saying you will vote along conservative Liberal Party lines rather than use your conscience with votes?

Both line-up, my values and traditional Liberal party values, that's my conscience.

You weren't treated that well by your Liberal mates though, why be so loyal?

I have no animosity towards the PM or my former Liberal Party colleagues. We have a professional relationship.