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Australian Politics

Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott says he was headbutted by gay marriage advocate

Abbott was prime minister in 2015 when he committed his conservative government to holding a compulsory vote by all adult Australians to decide whether gay marriage should be legal

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 10:19pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 10:19pm

A former Australian prime minister who decided two years ago that the people should vote on whether same-sex marriage should be legalised said he was headbutted on Thursday by a gay rights advocate while walking in a city street.

Tony Abbott said he sustained a swollen lip in the attack in Hobart as he walked to his hotel after attending an anti-gay marriage lunch.

The altercation is one of several allegations of violence and vote-rigging that have marred a current postal ballot on whether Australia should lift its prohibition on gay marriage. Australia and Ireland are the only countries to put the divisive issue to the public to decide.

Abbott remains a government lawmaker and is a vocal advocate for the “no” vote. The two-month voting process began last week.

He says: ‘I want to shake your hand.’ I went over to shake his hand then he headbutted me
Tony Abbott, former prime minister

“A fellow sung out at me – ‘Hey Tony.’ I turned around. There was a chap wearing a ‘vote yes’ badge,” Abbott told Radio 3AW. “He says: ‘I want to shake your hand.’ I went over to shake his hand then he headbutted me.”

A member Abbott’s staff tussled with the man before he ran off, Abbott said.

“It’s just a reminder of how ugly this debate is getting,” he added.

Abbott was prime minister in 2015 when he committed his conservative government to holding a compulsory vote by all adult Australians to decide whether gay marriage should be legal.

He was replaced weeks later by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who supports gay marriage. Turnbull opposed the public vote but agreed to maintain Abbott’s policy in a deal with the government power brokers who ousted Abbott in an internal leadership ballot.

The Senate refused to fund a compulsory vote, so the government is proceeding with a voluntary postal ballot which critics say is unlikely to provide an accurate picture of public opinion.

Lawmakers would still have to pass a law to allow gay marriage and several have said they would not allow it regardless of public opinion.

Most gay rights advocates had argued against a public vote for fear that it would lead to a bitter public debate. They want lawmakers to decide the issue without consultation with the public.

Successive opinion polls in recent years show that most Australians support marriage equality.

Equality Campaign spokesman Alex Greenwich condemned the violence against Abbott.

“Marriage equality is about respect and dignity for every Australian. There is no room for any disrespect either physical or verbal in this national debate,” Greenwich said in a statement.

Kevin Rudd, a centre-left Labor Party prime minister whom Abbott defeated in elections in 2013, blamed the postal ballot for an assault on his godson Sean Foster, 19, as he campaigned for marriage equality in Brisbane city last week.

“So many warnings to Turnbull about what the postal vote cld unleash. Now my godson Sean has been punched standing up for #MarriageEquality,” Rudd tweeted with a photograph showing Foster’s bloodied forehead.

Police have charged a 48-year-old man with assaulting Foster.

Tasmania state police had yet to say whether Abbott had lodged an official complaint.