Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he won’t let Liberal candidate Katherine Deves be “silenced” as internal divisions within the party over her candidacy continue.
Ms Deves was Mr Morrison’s “captain’s pick" to run as a candidate in the northeastern Sydney seat of Warringah, held by independent Zali Steggall who ousted former prime minister Tony Abbott in 2019.
She has apologised for a number of transphobic comments made on various social media platforms.
Among the now-deleted posts, the lawyer had called transgender children “surgically mutilated and sterilised” and claimed half of the men who transitioned were sex offenders.
Mr Morrison again defied calls for her to be replaced after he was pressed on his continued support for Ms Deves on Tuesday.
Katherine Deves has apologised for remarks about transgender people. Credit: Katherine Deves/Facebook
“I'm not going to allow her to be silenced, I'm not going to allow her to be pushed aside as the pile on comes in to try and silence her,” he told reporters.
“I will stand up with her, my team is standing up with her and we will make sure that she won’t be silenced.”
Mr Morrison has described the candidate as someone who has “always stood up for women and girls in sport”.
“She has learned in her advocacy and her private life the better ways to do things to take things forward,” he said.
“I believe that is how she will approach the task if she is elected as the member for Warringah.”
The defence comes after NSW 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.”
Meanwhile, 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.
Ms Deves describes herself as a women's advocate and co-founded the organisation Save Women’s Sport, which aims to prevent trans women from participating in female categories in sporting competitions.
In a statement released last week, she apologised for her previous transphobic comments.
“In my dedication to fighting for the rights of women and girls, my language has on occasion been unacceptable. It has hurt people and detracted from my arguments,” the statement said.
“I apologise for such language and the hurt that I have caused. I commit to continuing the fight for the safety of girls and women in a respectful way.”
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.
The seat of Warringah is currently held by Independent MP Zali Steggall, after previously being considered a Liberal stronghold.
Ms Deves has also faced criticism for invoking references to Nazi Germany in her public commentary on trans-related issues.
In a joint statement, Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Peter Wertheim and NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Darren Bark have labelled the statements “inappropriate” and “ill-considered”.
Minister for Women Marise Payne has publicly declined to say whether Ms Deves should stay or go as a candidate, instead describing the decision as a matter for the Liberal Party.
“I don’t agree with the remarks that she made. I’ve made that explicitly clear,” she told the ABC on Sunday.
Ms Deves was endorsed by Mr Morrison to run for the seat after a protracted and highly contested preselection process left the party without candidates in key seats.
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