Prime Minister Tony Abbott has moved to distance himself from Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi after the backbencher called for a new debate on abortion, railed against "non-traditional" families and called for more flexible industrial relations laws.
Senator Bernardi, a former parliamentary secretary to Mr Abbott, has made the controversial comments in his new book, The Conservative Revolution.
Senator Cory Bernardi has called for the traditional family model to be restored to "prime position". Photo: Andrew Meares
In his book, Senator Bernardi accuses some women of using abortion as "an abhorrent form of birth control" and branded those who advocate for abortion to be available as "pro-death".
He writes that the number of abortions performed each year in Australia by the "death industry" is "horrendous and unacceptable".
"The political pressure from the left has ushered us into a morbid new world. It is not enough to stop the trend. What is needed is a reversal back to sanity and reason."
Mr Abbott has moved to distance himself from the controversial remarks, saying Senator Bernardi's views do not reflect government policy.
Mr Abbott's spokeswoman issued a one-sentence statement on Monday: “Senator Bernardi is a backbencher and his views do not represent the position of the government.”
Interviewed on ABC TV on Monday, Senator Bernardi stood by his book, and called for a fresh debate about abortion.
"The question is for everyone in this debate, where does life begin?" he said.
"For me it's at conception, for other people it is 24 week of gestation, others say it's not until the child is born and a sentient being, some weeks after birth.
"I haven't said we should outlaw or prohibit abortion, I have said there is a right-to-life issue we should be exploring."
In his book, the South Australian senator calls for the traditional family model to be restored to "prime position" over other family arrangements such as step families, same-sex and single families and couples with children born via surrogacy.
"Given the increasing number of 'non-traditional' families, there is a temptation to equate all family structures as being equal or relative," he writes.
"Why then the levels of criminality among boys and promiscuity among girls who are brought up in single-parent families, more often than not headed by a single mother?"
He writes that it is "perfectly reasonable and rational" for the state to "reinforce and entrench those aspects of traditional marriage that work, not undermine them and promote 'alternatives' which have led to social chaos".
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten responded on Monday, saying he is offended by Senator Bernardi's criticism of "non-traditional" families.
Mr Shorten, is married to Chloe, the daughter of Governor-General Quentin Bryce. The couple live with their daughter Clementine as well as Rupert and Georgette Parkin, Chloe's children from a previous marriage. Mr Shorten was previously married to Debbie Beale, the daughter of businessman and former Liberal MP Julian Beale.
“Cory Bernardi’s comments on what he regards as ‘non-traditional families’ are offensive," Mr Shorten said in a statement.
“As a father in a blended family, I reject Senator Bernardi saying that step-families are somehow inferior.''
“There are hundreds of thousands of Australian children who thrive in loving step-families, blended families or in families with a single parent.
“On what basis is Senator Bernardi suggesting these children are more likely to be criminal or is it just his own out-of-date prejudices?
“These are not the views of a party that understands or respects modern Australian families,'' Mr Shorten said.
Australia 'lacking direction'
In the book, Senator Bernardi also writes that government programs to assist disadvantaged children such as breakfast clubs undermine parental responsibility by fostering a mentality that the state would provide.
He said the diminished influence of religion in Australian society had left the country lacking direction.
"I believe that by stripping God and religious principles from our culture (and our politics) we have become a nation which does not know which port it is sailing to," Senator Bernardi writes.
But he identified Islam as a threat to the Western way of life, and also attacked what he called the "green agenda" which he said gave a greater value to plant and animal life than humanity.
Senator Bernardi also called for more flexible workplace laws, saying some parts of John Howard's WorkChoices laws deserve revisiting.
"Surely an employee should be free to negotiate an acceptable workplace agreement directly with their employer ... free from government or union interference," he writes.
"Small business needs to be empowered to hire and fire employees free of illegitimate government interference."
The comments are likely to prove an unwelcome distraction for Mr Abbott, who has sought to neutralise the issues of industrial relations and abortion.
During the 2010 and 2013 election campaigns Mr Abbott insisted WorkChoices was "dead, buried and cremated". And in 2013 Mr Abbott pledged the Coalition had no plans to change abortion laws after then prime minister Julia Gillard gave a speech warning "men in blue ties" would make abortion rights their "plaything" if the Coalition won power.
No stranger to controversy, Senator Bernardi was re-elected to the Senate in last year's election in the No.1 position on the Liberal Party's South Australian Senate ticket.
Senator Bernardi served as Mr Abbott's parliamentary secretary in opposition for more than two years, until he was demoted in 2012 for a speech in which he said sanctioning of same-sex marriage would lead to demands to legalise bestiality.
In 2010, Senator Bernardi called for a ban on wearing the burqua in public, and in 2011 he declared it was "wrong" for the government to pay the funeral expenses of asylum seekers who had drowned.
In December, Senator Bernardi issued a public ultimatum to Liberal frontbencher Malcolm Turnbull to either quit the ministry or stop publicly advocating for same-sex marriage.
Senator Bernardi said on Monday as a backbencher he was not bound by cabinet solidarity.
Calls on Abbott
Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese on Monday called on Mr Abbott to distance himself from Senator Bernardi's most latest remarks.
"There is nothing fair and nothing reasonable about these extremist remarks from Cory Bernardi."
"He says that he's pro-freedom, but he's against women's right to control their own bodies."
"He says he's pro-religion, but he's against any religion that isn't the same as his."
"He says he's pro-individual rights, but in his advocacy of WorkChoices, he would take us back to the Howard era that saw division in the workplace, that saw workers discriminated against, and rights being taken away."
Mr Albanese, who was raised by a single mother, said Senator Bernardi claimed to be pro-family, "but he's against any family that doesn't resemble his depiction of what a family is".
"This is an offensive contribution to the policy debate. He's a confidant of Tony Abbott, and it's up to senior government members from Tony Abbott down to dissociate themselves, if in fact they disagree with Cory Bernardi's agenda."
Acting Greens leader Richard Di Natale, condemned Senator Bernardi for what he described as his "hateful and offensive" statements.
“Former Prime Minister John Howard was rightly criticised for his failure to condemn Pauline Hanson's hateful views and these views are just as abhorrent. They have no place in modern Australia, let alone in a mainstream political party and Tony Abbott must condemn them unequivocally," Senator Di Natale said in a statement.
“The concern for many Australians is that Tony Abbott and Cory Bernardi are cut from the same ideological cloth but that unlike the Prime Minister, Senator Bernardi is not trying to hide his views or disguise his brutal agenda.
“If Tony Abbott doesn't agree with his former Parliamentary Secretary and confidant then he should immediately condemn these statements. If Tony Abbott fails to clearly distance himself from Senator Bernardi then it will be impossible to escape the conclusion that he is quietly pleased that his dirty work is being done.”