SOCIAL Services Minister Kevin Andrews has cancelled his appearance at the World Congress of Families conference tomorrow in Melbourne, after weeks of pressure and controversy surrounding his planned keynote address.

According to The Australian, Andrews (pictured above) cancelled because the event is now set to be hosted by extremist right-wing group Catch the Fire Ministries.

The group is affiliated with the Rise Up Australia political party, which has previously courted controversy for being against multiculturalism and linking Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires to abortion laws.

In a statement released today, Andrews criticised “the left” for protests about his planned appearance and accused them of seeking to “shut down debate”.

“Tolerance is a critical value in a western liberal democracy like Australia,” he said.

“It was for this reason that I intended to address the World Congress of Families meeting in Melbourne tomorrow.

“The calls for me not to attend demonstrate the intolerance of the Greens and the left — instead of arguing their case in the public arena they seek to shut down debate.

“Equally, I cannot support intolerance from other quarters. As I have been informed today that the event is now to be hosted by Catch the Fire, I have decided not to attend.”

Andrews said he would release the speech he planned to give at the conference.

Fairfax Media has also reported that upper house Liberal MP Bernie Finn has also withdrawn from the event, although his reason for doing so was not provided.

Earlier this week, Sydney state independent MP Alex Greenwich sent a letter to the Social Services Minister asking him to cancel his keynote address at the conference, adding to the growing social media protest led by advocates such as Pauline Pantsdown.

The World Congress of Families has attracted controversy for its support of the Russian government’s so-called “gay propaganda” laws and for being vocal opponents to marriage equality.

At the time of print, Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark was still set to appear at tomorrow’s conference, along with NSW upper house Christian Democrats MP Fred Nile and Liberal Senators Cory Bernardi and Eric Abetz.

One of its guests, Dr Angela Lanfranchi, has also reportedly linked breast cancer to abortion.

A location for tomorrow’s conference is also yet to be determined, after four cancellations from different venues so far.

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