Kelly goes independent over virus, staffer

Craig Kelly says he needs to be on the cross bench to speak frankly and fearlessly.
Craig Kelly says he needs to be on the cross bench to speak frankly and fearlessly.

Newly-independent federal politician Craig Kelly continues to stand by his office manager, who faces multiple harassment allegations from underage female interns.

Mr Kelly surprised Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday when he announced his resignation from the Liberal Party at a joint partyroom meeting.

The controversial Hughes MP says he left the party so he could speak "frankly and fearlessly", as he continues to question the government's coronavirus response.

Mr Kelly claims it's a separate matter to issues surrounding his long-time staff member, who is subject to an apprehended violence order by a female co-worker.

"There are no criminal charges against him," the MP told the ABC.

"He is entitled to natural justice and the presumption of innocence."

Mr Morrison indicated he had asked Mr Kelly to end the man's employment.

"I raised those matters with the member for Hughes. He undertook to take some certain actions on behalf of those discussions," the prime minister told parliament.

"Those actions were not taken."

The Department of Finance - which handles work-related complaints from ministerial staff - is now looking into issues raised against Mr Kelly's staffer.

The MP intends to run at the next federal election as an independent.

There are now seven crossbenchers in the House of Representatives, taking the government's numbers to 76 in the 151-member chamber.

Mr Kelly says he will support the government on supply and confidence and vote with the Liberal Party on policies taken to the last election.

The MP has shared coronavirus misinformation throughout the pandemic and had faced being disendorsed by the Liberals ahead of the next federal poll.

"My conduct has not helped the boat go faster," Mr Kelly told the partyroom meeting after announcing his resignation.

"I don't want to be that sea anchor holding us back."

Mr Kelly has also stepped down from his position as chair of parliament's law and enforcement committee.

It took months for Mr Morrison to publicly condemn the Hughes MP on his coronavirus views.

Mr Kelly was asked to stop contradicting the government's health advice, but has not.

"I set out some very clear standards and he made some commitments that I expected to be followed through on," the prime minister said.

"He no longer felt that he could meet those commitments, but I can tell you, my standards don't change."

The MP has been promoting two unapproved drugs on his Facebook page and has also long questioned the science behind climate change.

Mr Kelly had threatened to quit the Liberals ahead of the 2019 election when he faced a challenge to his seat from within the NSW branch but was saved by Mr Morrison.

Senior Labor MP Linda Burney says Mr Kelly has been a "thorn in the side" of the Liberals for some time.

"The government has the slimmest of majorities in the parliament now," she said.

Mr Kelly was first elected to parliament for the seat of Hughes in 2010.

Voters in the Sydney electorate have been brewing plans to find an independent candidate to run against Mr Kelly at the next federal poll.

Australian Associated Press