Liberal candidate Katherine Deves says she's received death threats over the controversial comments she made on transgender athletes, which have forced her family to leave Sydney.
Speaking exclusively to SBS News to "broaden" her platform, the mother of three girls sat down with World News host Janice Petersen in a secret location on Sunday.
"I have received death threats. I have had to have the police and the AFP involved. My safety has been threatened. My family are away out of Sydney because I don't want them to witness what I'm going through nor do I want their safety put at risk," she revealed.
Picked by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to run for the Liberal Party in the Sydney seat currently held by Independent Zali Steggall, Ms Deves immediately ignited controversy over a number of now-deleted comments she had made on social media.
In the comments she called trans people "surgically mutilated and sterilised" and likened her lobbying to stop transgender athletes from competing in women’s sport to standing up against the Nazis during the Holocaust.
The views have caused public outrage as well as an internal row within the Liberal Party.
For Ms Deves, they led to what she described as her feeling unsafe to emerge in public or to front the media.
"There was a media firestorm. I went from having a small platform in a certain demographic to suddenly being the political candidate who was second only to the prime minister in terms of the press coverage … we've wanted that to die down a little bit before I responded to the media inquiries."
I went from having a small platform in a certain demographic to suddenly being the political candidate who was second only to the prime minister in terms of the press coverage.Liberal candidate Katherine Deves
On Saturday, she refused to appear in front of the media at an event at the Forestville RSL.
She said her decision to speak with SBS News was led by her desire to expand her reach to diverse Australians.
"I wanted to broaden my platform. I know SBS reaches many Australians, across many demographics, many different ways of life."
SBS News asked the AFP to confirm whether it had received reports of death threats against Ms Deves.
“The AFP does not comment on matters that may be the subject of investigation,” a spokesperson said.
NSW Police said in a statement to SBS News that it has not received any reports of threats made.
Trans activism 'an encroachment on women's rights'
Ms Deves told SBS News she had been "chastened" by the reaction to her controversial comments, for which .
"I recognise that trying to prosecute arguments on complex, difficult and nuanced subjects should not take place on a platform that propagates offence and division and hurt. And going forward, I will be conducting myself within a dignified and respectful fashion," she said.
"As a mother and a woman, I recognise that the way I prosecuted those arguments was not conducive to proper, reasonable debate."
She also explained that she is not transphobic and that her comments relate to "the rights of women and girls to have a dedicated female sports category for fair competition" and legislation "not doing its job" to create a level playing field.
Ms Deves co-founded the organisation Save Women’s Sport, which aims to prevent trans women from participating in female categories in sporting competitions.
"I have never had an issue with sexual orientation, or gender diversity, or people expressing themselves the way that they want to. I have family members and friends and supporters who are gay and lesbian or identify as trans," she said.
"What I take issue with is trans activism. It is an encroachment on women's rights. And there is a collision of rights here. And we as a society need to be able to acknowledge that we need to balance what women want, and what people with trans identities want. And we need to be able to debate that in a reasonable and measured way."
Ms Steggall said Ms Deves should be disendorsed over her activity on social media.
"The fact that she deleted her previous social media accounts shows that she knew just how toxic, ill-informed and offensive her comments and views were," she said in a statement.
"[The prime minister] either knew her views and selected her anyway, or he wasn't properly informed and made a flawed decision."
The comments have provoked public anger and the ire of sporting organisations around Australia.
Government agency Sport Australia says all Australians should have the opportunity to be involved in sport and physical activity, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, ability, cultural background or ethnicity.
"It is important that sporting bodies, from local clubs through to national sporting organisations, reflect the diversity in the communities they are a part of, and that together, we ensure every person is treated with respect and dignity and protected from discrimination," the organisation says.
'We need more people speaking their mind'
Ms Deves said that despite considering nomination for "a very long period of time", she was "as shocked as anyone" to be selected as a candidate for the former blue-ribbon Sydney seat and had advocated for a plebiscite, or preselection vote.
At the same time, she said she was "happy to have this opportunity".
"I wanted to stand up. Stand up for what I believe in on behalf of my little girls, and to set a good example for women everywhere", though the issue of transgender people in sport was never supposed to be a core platform of her campaign.
Asked by SBS News about suggestions she has no chance of winning Warringah and was picked simply to help the Liberal Party gain seats in conservative regional and rural areas, Ms Deves is dismissive.
"I put my hand up to represent the people of Warringah and I would not have done that if I did not sincerely believe that I had a chance. And if there are other mechanisms at play, I'm not aware of them," she said.
She also considers it important to give a voice in parliament, not only to women but to those who feel afraid to speak their own mind.
Liberal candidate for Warringah Katherine Deves speaks with SBS News presenter Janice Petersen. Source: SBS News
"What we are witnessing right now - we are in a time where it is dangerous to speak your mind," she said.
"We need more people standing up and speaking their mind, our fundamental human rights are under threat, freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of belief. And if we can't be custodians of those rights for future generations, then nothing else matters."
Ongoing divisions within the Liberal party
Ms Deves' negative comments about transgender people continue to cause division in her own party, with some MPs calling for the candidate to be disendorsed.
New South Wales Treasurer Matt Kean repeated his call for Ms Deves to be disendorsed on Tuesday, describing her as “not fit for office”.
“This is a series of consistent positions held over a long period and in recent times,” Mr Kean told the ABC.
“We need to continue to stand up and call out this kind of language, this kind of bigotry.”
Liberal state MP Felicity Wilson has also described Ms Deves' statements as “offensive” and “damaging views”.
Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman has declined to comment on reports in Guardian Australia that he has appealed to senior members of the prime minister’s office to have Ms Deves dumped.
However, , describing her as someone who has “always stood up for women and girls in sport”.
And on Saturday, Northern Territory Country Liberal Party senate candidate Jacinta Price voiced her support for Ms Deves, saying that she’s "standing up to women" and "being silenced in the name of wokeness".
Meanwhile, Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said the debate around the candidate had been “divisive” for the trans community.
“This is just another of the chaos and division that is there within the Liberal Party,” he told reporters.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has lashed "cruel" politicians fuelling debate over transgender kids playing school sports, suggesting it is a non-issue
He said no school community, parent or teacher has raised the subject with him during his 20 years in the Victorian parliament.
"Trans kids are 15 times more likely to self-harm. I don't think this debate is doing any of those young Victorians any good, or their parents," Mr Andrews said.
Trans kids are 15 times more likely to self-harm. I don't think this debate is doing any of those young Victorians any good, or their parents.Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews
Greens leader Adam Bandt also weighed in on the issue, slamming the prime minister for what he says is starting a "culture war" by pretending to care about women.
"What this is about from Scott Morrison is an attempt to start up a devastating culture war that has the potential to claim lives," Mr Bandt said in his National Press Club address on Wednesday.
"If we're having a debate at all in this country, about how to support [trans people].
"People's right to exist should not be the fodder for the political election campaigns. Trans people deserve our support."
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