Shorten ig­nites un­holy war

ALP LEADER TAR­GETS PRIME MIN­IS­TER’S RE­LI­GION CHURCH BRANDS AT­TACK ‘ABOMINABLE’

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - JOE KELLY

Scott Mor­ri­son has ac­cused Bill Shorten of a “grubby” and “des­per­ate” bid to al­ter the elec­tion agenda and dis­tract vot­ers from his high-tax­ing poli­cies by politi­cis­ing the Prime Min­is­ter’s faith in the fi­nal days of the cam­paign.

Ig­nit­ing a clash over faith ahead of Satur­day’s elec­tion, the Op­po­si­tion Leader yes­ter­day de­manded Mr Mor­ri­son state his personal view on whether ho­mo­sex­u­als would go to hell, declar­ing Aus­tralia needed a “prime min­is­ter for all peo­ple”.

Mr Mor­ri­son, a de­vout Christian, re­sponded on the hus­tings in Tas­ma­nia that he did not be­lieve gay peo­ple went to hell, later ar­gu­ing he had grown up be­liev­ing “God’s love is for every­body”.

“I am not run­ning for pope; I am run­ning for prime min­is­ter,” Mr Mor­ri­son said.

“These are is­sues about re­li­gion and I don’t want to see those con­tro­ver­sial top­ics brought into the po­lit­i­cal de­bate. I don’t see how that helps any­body.”

The ex­change be­tween the lead­ers el­e­vated re­li­gious free­doms and LGBTI rights as flash­point is­sues and came af­ter Christian lead­ers wrote to Mr Mor­ri­son and Mr Shorten seek­ing clar­i­fi­ca­tion on their poli­cies to pro­tect peo­ple of faith.

Pres­by­te­rian Church of Aus­tralia as­sem­bly clerk Bruce Meller — a sig­na­tory to the let­ter sent to the two lead­ers on Satur­day — said he thought Mr Shorten had tar­geted Mr Mor­ri­son be­cause of his faith, and his comments were grossly “un­fair and hyp­o­crit­i­cal”.

“It’s symp­to­matic of what is hap­pen­ing all over the place, where Chris­tians in par­tic­u­lar are be­ing tar­geted,” Mr Meller said.

“I also think it’s abominable that Bill Shorten is en­deav­our­ing to ap­ply a re­li­gious test to Scott Mor­ri­son when tests of re­li­gion for pub­lic of­fice are banned un­der our Con­sti­tu­tion.

“A per­son is largely de­fined by their re­li­gious be­liefs, in­clud­ing the ab­sence of re­li­gious be­lief, be­cause it frames the con­science and the eth­i­cal stance that a per­son adopts in re­la­tion to others.”

Mr Shorten’s at­tack on Mr Mor­ri­son was taken up by chief lieu­tenants Mark Drey­fus and Penny Wong and came ahead of to­day’s re­lease of polling on voter at­ti­tudes to re­li­gious free­doms, com­mis­sioned by the In­sti­tute for Civil So­ci­ety. The YouGov Galaxy sur­vey — ob­tained by The Aus­tra

lian and con­ducted be­tween Tues­day and Fri­day last week — found over­whelm­ing sup­port for le­gal pro­tec­tions up­hold­ing free­doms for peo­ple of faith. Among those polled, 75 per cent agreed freedom of thought, con­science and be­lief through speech, prac­tice and teach­ing needed to be protected. Only 5 per cent dis­agreed, with 20 per cent un­de­cided.

The po­lit­i­cal row erupted yes­ter­day when Mr Shorten iden­ti­fied the “mean­est com­men­tary” of the elec­tion cam­paign as Mr Mor­ri­son’s refusal to say that he did not be­lieve gay peo­ple would go to hell — the con­tro­ver­sial propo­si­tion posted on so­cial me­dia by rugby union star Is­rael Fo­lau.

The com­ment was vol­un­teered by Mr Shorten when he was asked about Paul Keat­ing’s at­tack on Home Af­fairs Min­is­ter Peter Dut­ton, who the for­mer Labor prime min­is­ter de­scribed as the “mean­est” politi­cian he had come across in his 50 years in pol­i­tics.

“The mean­est com­men­tary I’ve seen in the elec­tion is ac­tu­ally the propo­si­tions that are be­ing ad­vanced that gay peo­ple are go­ing to go to hell,” Mr Shorten said. “I can’t be­lieve the Prime Min­is­ter has not im­me­di­ately said that gay peo­ple will not go to hell.

“This coun­try needs to re­ally lift it­self and the po­lit­i­cal de­bate and cov­er­age needs to re­ally lift it­self in the next four days.

“I think if you want to be prime min­is­ter of Aus­tralia you’ve got to be prime min­is­ter for all peo­ple … The na­tion’s got to stop eat­ing it­self in this sort of mad­ness of di­vi­sion and tox­i­c­ity.”

Mr Mor­ri­son said Mr Shorten’s comments were “very dis­ap­point­ing” and warned that Labor had sought to ex­ploit the is­sue to di­vert at­ten­tion from its tax agenda. “I don’t think that should have a place in this elec­tion cam­paign,” he said. “The dis­trac­tion that Mr Shorten tried to bring up to­day — apart from be­ing frankly a bit grubby and a bit be­neath him and dis­ap­point­ing — the real is­sue was, Labor is get­ting a lot more des­per­ate.

“I’d sug­gest let’s stay on talk­ing about the sort of taxes you want to put on the Aus­tralian peo­ple.”

When asked di­rectly on Mon­day whether he agreed with Fo­lau’s be­lief — that gay peo­ple would go to hell un­less they re­pented — the Prime Min­is­ter sought to defuse the is­sue, but did not pro­vide a di­rect re­sponse.

Mr Mor­ri­son said he never mixed re­li­gion with pol­i­tics, but the refusal to pro­vide a more de­fin­i­tive an­swer left him vul­ner­a­ble to at­tack and forced him to clar­ify his view yes­ter­day af­ter­noon.

Mr Drey­fus, Labor’s le­gal af­fairs spokesman, sug­gested the govern­ment had a prob­lem with ho­mo­pho­bia and seized on anti­gay comments made by Lib­eral can­di­dates and exposed over the cam­paign. “All we’ve seen from Scott Mor­ri­son is run­ning away, duck­ing ques­tions about all four of these can­di­dates, say­ing pa­thet­i­cally, limply, that it’s just a mat­ter for the party,” he said.

Se­na­tor Wong, Labor’s Sen­ate leader and for­eign af­fairs spokes­woman, also chal­lenged the Prime Min­is­ter over his refusal to pro­vide a de­fin­i­tive an­swer on Mon­day.

Se­na­tor Wong, who is gay and broke down in tears when the re­sult of the same-sex mar­riage plebiscite was an­nounced, said the Prime Min­is­ter should have been able to an­swer. “We know what Scott Mor­ri­son’s view on mar­riage equal­ity was: he was against it, he op­posed it and then even when his elec­torate sup­ported it he left the par­lia­ment so he didn’t have to vote for it,” she said. “It’s pretty clear what Mr Mor­ri­son’s view on equal­ity is.”

The at­tack from Labor ap­pears to con­trast with other re­sults in the YouGov Galaxy sur­vey, which found 59 per cent agreed with “al­low­ing peo­ple who do not agree with ho­mo­sex­ual ac­tiv­ity to speak freely and pub­licly about their rea­sons for ob­ject­ing to it, with­out penalty or ad­verse ac­tion”.

PHILIP GOSTELOW

John Howard in the Perth seat of Hasluck yes­ter­day cam­paign­ing for Ken Wy­att

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