However Kelly popped up on ITV’s top-rating Good Morning Britain program on Monday for an interview that quickly turned south under questioning from provocative conservative co-host Piers Morgan.
“You are facing now one of the greatest crises you have ever faced, and there is you Mr Kelly, with respect, a senior politician who still doesn’t think this has anything to do with a heating up planet,” Morgan said.
“Basically nothing to see here, nothing to worry about, as virtually your entire country is eviscerated by fires.”
Kelly shot back: “This is a terrible disaster, this is one of our nation’s worst natural disasters, and in the past when we have these in our nation we all sat back and did what we could to fix it up, rather than people getting out there and scoring political points and that is what’s happening now.”
Nodding in agreement as he was introduced to viewers as a climate sceptic, Kelly argued the fire crisis was caused by high fuel loads and the drought.
He also claimed there was “simply no” long-term trend to back up the widespread conclusions of scientists and other experts that the Australian climate was warming.
“To try to make out as some politicians have to hijack this debate, exploit this tragedy and push their ideological barrow, that somehow or another the Australian government could have done something by reducing its carbon emissions that would have reduced these bushfires is just complete nonsense,” Kelly said.
The show’s weather presenter Laura Tobin interrupted and reminded Kelly that 2019 was Australia’s hottest and driest on record.
“You have the second highest carbon emissions per person on earth and you are burying your head in the sand. You aren’t a climate sceptic you are a climate denier,” she said of Kelly. He did not take exception with that description.
Nine of the 10 warmest years on record in Australia have occurred since 2005 and fire chiefs have said the length and severity of this bushfire season are unprecedented.
Morrison on Sunday stressed he and his government accepted the link between climate change and weather.
“I should stress that there is no dispute in this country about the issue of climate change globally, and its effect on global weather patterns, and that includes how that impacts in Australia,” he said.
“Because I have to correct the record here. I have seen a number of people suggest that somehow the government does not make this connection. The government I lead has always made that connection and that has never been in dispute.”
Tennis star Pat Cash and three Australian firefighters who were also part of the Good Morning Britain segment watched on in stony-faced silence as the television debate escalated.
Kelly also defended Morrison when Morgan criticised the Prime Minister for travelling to Hawaii as the fires raged.
“The only thing the national leader can actually do is wait until he gets a response from … state premiers asking for more resources,” Kelly said. “Every time those state premiers have come forward and said we need something, the Prime Minister has done that.”
Morgan eventually thanked Kelly for appearing before cutting the interview short.
“I’ve got to say: wake up. Wake up. Climate change and global warming are real and Australia right now is showing the entire world just how devastating it is,” Morgan said as he farewelled Kelly.
“And for senior politicians in Australia to still pretend there’s no connection is absolutely disgraceful.”
Morrison intervened to save Kelly from almost certain preselection defeat in his southern Sydney seat ahead of the May election.
Kelly’s decision to appear on British television will anger some colleagues who are concerned the bushfire crisis is already attracting major international attention and could harm the nation’s important tourism industry.
Tourism Australia has suspended the digital element of a new $15 million advertising campaign designed to lure Brexit-fatigued Brits to Australia. The ad, which has been months in the planning, launched just as the bushfire crisis escalated and became headline news in the United Kingdom.
Bevan Shields is the Europe correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.