The family of the Liberal candidate for the federal seat of Canning have been unwittingly drawn into the bitter by-election campaign.
Former Australian Defence Force soldier Andrew Hastie fronted the media on Thursday in an attempt to silence “irrelevant” questions about his family.
“I have no problem with people coming after me, but just make sure you come after me and not my family,” Mr Hastie said on Thursday, with former Prime Minister John Howard by his side.
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In an attempt to clear up any questions, Mr Hastie said his wife once worked as a receptionist at a Perth church where her responsibilities included uploading blog posts written by others, including one about homosexuality.
“As an Anglican, I’ve served my country proudly. I’ve served with gay servicemen, I’ve serve alongside Muslim soldiers in Afghanistan and I’m proud to have fought for the freedom of religion that we enjoy in Australia,” he said.
Mr Hastie also addressed marriage equality, saying he was against same-sex marriage but was in favour of a popular vote to decide on the issue.
Regarding questions about his father, which Mr Hastie didn’t go into, he said his father’s views were his own and he was entitled to them.
Mr Howard took to the coastal retirement haven of Mandurah alongside Mr Hastie, meeting voters at a shopping centre and getting a rock-star reception.
Mr Howard said he was a “compulsive campaigner” and his presence in Canning did not indicate the Liberals are worried about losing the by-election.
However a member of the public managed to sneak into the media scrum and ask Mr Howard a loaded question about the Abbott government’s human rights record on the Manus Island detention centre.
“[Who is] going to help him [Mr Abbott] when he goes to the Hague for human rights abuses?” the interjector shouted.
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) September 3, 2015
Mr Howard said he was always happy to help his “good friend” Mr Abbott and his government.
“I happened to be coming over to Western Australia and I couldn’t resist offering myself to help, and he’s such an impressive candidate that I wanted to sort of be part of the action,” Mr Howard told reporters.
“It’s really got nothing to do with desperation. I’m always happy to help Tony Abbott.”
Mr Howard said long-serving Liberal Don Randall, who previously held the seat before his sudden death in July, had been a friend of his and Mr Hastie would be a good successor.
He added that the by-election should be less about sending a message to the prime minister and more about telling Labor leader Bill Shorten to stop obstructing a free trade agreement with China.