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Faith communities and Warringah candidate Katherine Deves

“The prime minister has totally let down the Christian community,” he said. “He allowed the religious discrimination bill to be defeated by five moderates – it’s a sign of weakness and a slap in the face to the Christian community.”

Katherine Deves, Liberal candidate for Warringah, at a pre-polling booth on Thursday.Credit:Louie Douvis

While describing some of Deves’ statements as insensitive, Morrison has rejected calls by prominent moderate Liberals to disendorse her, saying he believes Australians are sick of “walking on eggshells” for fear of upsetting someone.

In an interview with The Herald and The Age this week, Deves said it would not be her fault if Liberal moderates lost their seats on May 21.

“Polling has shown that the overwhelming majority of Australians agree with my position on women’s sport,” she said. “I would say to those other candidates they’re not reading the room.”

Despite the widespread media coverage of Deves’ comments, Keyser Trad, chief executive of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, said he was not familiar with the candidate.

“No, I haven’t heard about it,” he said of the controversy around Deves’ past statements, which included describing Wear it Purple Day, which celebrates gender diversity, as a “grooming tactic”.

After being told about her views, the prominent Muslim community leader said: “I’m sure many people in faith communities would empathise with those concerns.”

Keysar Trad says he believes there would be a lot of empathy for Deves in religious communities.

Keysar Trad says he believes there would be a lot of empathy for Deves in religious communities. Credit:Jacky Ghossein

Trad himself is a controversial figure, having publicly supported polygamy as an alternative to extramarital relations and describing male violence against women as a “last resort” in 2017. He later apologised, saying it was never acceptable to hit a woman.

Trad said he is personally concerned about the idea of young people beginning the gender reassignment process before adulthood.

“Children in society can’t do a lot of things because they are not considered mature enough to make those decisions,” he said. “This is a mind-boggling development in society…If you have an opinion that differs from the popular view, you are marginalised and treated like a bigot.”

Surinder Jain, of the Hindu Council of Australia, says the debate about transgender rights is not top of mind in his community.

Surinder Jain, of the Hindu Council of Australia, says the debate about transgender rights is not top of mind in his community.Credit:Kate Geraghty

Hindu Council of Australia national vice president Surinder Jain said that, like Trad, he was not previously aware of the Deves controversy.

“This is not a big issue being discussed in our community,” he said. “Our issues are more immigration, religious vilification, visas, education.

“People of course may have personal opinions and they often differ with age. Older people tend to be more conservative and younger people more forward-looking. I have seen young people opposing their parents and grandparents on this issue.”

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A spokesman for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference declined to comment, while the Uniting Church and the Sikh Council of Australia did not respond to requests for comment.

Fiona Bisshop, president of the Australian Professional Association for Trans Health, this week said: “I see how profoundly life-changing and lifesaving gender-affirming care can be for those young people that need it. Decisions about medical care should be made between the patient and their treating team, rather than being the subject of political debate.”

She added that genital surgery is only performed on adults, with transgender boys undergoing surgery on their upper bodies in rare cases.

Rita Jabri Markwell, a spokeswoman for the Australian Muslim Action Network, said Muslim voters were weighing up a range of issues, with many keenly interested in foreign policy.

“The general scepticism we see in the community runs deeper among some Muslims because of the way our faith and our identity have been treated before,” she said.

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Krzysztof Stanowicz

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