Shorten ignites unholy war
ALP LEADER TARGETS PRIME MINISTER’S RELIGION CHURCH BRANDS ATTACK ‘ABOMINABLE’
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”.
John Howard in the Perth seat of Hasluck yesterday campaigning for Ken Wyatt