Another Victorian Liberal pre-selection, ahead of the state elections in November, has been engulfed in controversy over the candidate’s links to a conservative Christian church with historical links to gay conversion practices.

Liberals voted on Sunday for candidates for the safe upper house Eastern Victorian region seat – which means the winning candidate is virtually guaranteed a seat in the upper house of the Parliament. Renee Heath, a Gippsland-based remedial massage therapist turned chiropractor beat Catherine-Burnett Wake 55-53.

Renee’s father Brian Heath is a senior pastor at the City Builders Church, which has in the past been accused of reportedly encouraging its members to take part in a now-closed gay conversion therapy program run by Living Waters. The church and Heath denied endorsing so-called gay conversion therapy.

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The Church’s website has blogs that back rugby player Israel Folau, who was thrown out of Rugby Australia in 2019, after his homophobic posts on social media.  During the 2017 marriage equality vote, two pastors of the church had placed an advertisement in the Gippsland Times against gay marriages.

‘Curious Strategy’

The choice of some Liberal candidates has led to concerns both within and outside the party. This is the second controversial candidate, after the Liberals pre-selected anti-trans and anti-abortion councillor Moira Deeming last month to replace Bernie Finn for the Upper House Western Metropolitan Region seat in Parliament.

“Shaping up to be a Coalition Party Room that has even less in common with the Victorian community than the current one. Curious strategy,” Jaala Pulford, Victorian Labor MP posted on Twitter after Renee was selected.

Last week, former Liberal MP Andrew Elsbury resigned from the party over its decision to endorse Deeming.

In October 2021, The Age reported about increasing unease within the Victorian Liberal party about the “right-wing” church pushing to enter Victorian politics. The Church in a statement had then said that some of its members had joined the Victorian Nationals.

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Victorian Nationals leader Peter Walsh, in October 2021, told the ABC that some members of the Church in his party were in favour of so-called gay conversion therapy.

Matthew Guy Defends Liberal Candidates

Victorian Liberal Opposition leader Matthew Guy

Victorian opposition leader Matthew Guy came out to defend the candidate telling the media that Reene, who is also a member of the church, could not be blamed for her family’s views.

“Renee is not her father, Renee is not her uncle, Renee is not her family, Renee is herself. She’s a professional woman, she’s in the health field, she’s a professional person. I’ll ask people to judge Renee by Renee and not by anyone else,” The Age newspaper quoted Guy.

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Guy had defended picking Deeming, claiming that her views had been in the “past”. This was evidently not true as Deeming’s Facebook page has a pinned post dated December 15, 2021 – a video of her questioning council members about trans persons getting access to bathrooms that match their gender identity.

Iron-Clad Guarantee Over Gay Conversion Practices Ban

In February 2021, the Victorian Legislative Council passed The Change Or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020  27-9 in February with Labor, Greens, Cross-bench and some Liberal MPs voting for the law.

The Bill, to ban so-called conversion therapy, was passed in the Lower House on December 10, 2020, with Liberal MPs abstaining from the vote.

In October 2021, Liberal MP James Newbury, equality spokesperson had given an “iron-clad guarantee” that the party would not roll back the gay conversion therapy ban if elected.

This followed reports that former opposition leader Michael O’Brien, had promised the Australian Christian Lobby that the party would roll back the gay conversion practices ban if they managed to defeat the Daniel Andrews-led Labor government at the state elections.



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