Federal Politics

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Kevin Andrews skips Parliament to address conservative lobby group in Washington on defence

Kevin Andrews will become the second Liberal backbencher in a week to address a right-wing US lobby group when he speaks at the largest conservative think tank in Washington on Tuesday.

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Mr Andrews, who was dumped as defence minister by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in September as part of a purge of Tony Abbott-backers, will miss the first week of Parliament to deliver a speech on "Australia's Global Security and Defense Challenges" to the influential Heritage Foundation.

His booking in Washington has emerged days after Mr Abbott attracted criticism for agreeing to speak to conservative Christian, anti-gay lobby group, the Alliance Defending Freedom in New York on Thursday.

Kevin Andrews has been the member for Menzies for 25 years
Kevin Andrews has been the member for Menzies for 25 years Photo: Paul Jeffers

Mr Andrews' decision to fly to the US rather than attend the first sitting of Parliament in 2016 is likely to be interpreted as another conservative Liberal flying the flag for the hard right.

Mr Abbott's announcement this week that he will not retire from politics has rallied the faction, with warnings from conservatives like Eric Abetz that the group will not bow to a more moderate approach to issues like same-marriage even if Australians vote for its legalisation in the upcoming nationwide plebiscite.

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Mr Andrews has spoken out twice since his removal on the need for Australia to agree to US requests for a greater military contribution in the Middle East. He has called for Australian combat troops to take the fight to Islamic State.

His position has hardened since he was minister when in September he said "We're not contemplating boots on the ground" and "Iraqi boots on the ground" were the right way forward, supported by Australian training.

Backbenchers Tony Abbott and Kevin Andrews during Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's ministerial statement on national ...
Backbenchers Tony Abbott and Kevin Andrews during Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's ministerial statement on national security in November. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Mr Turnbull and new Defence Minister Marise Payne have ruled out a greater contribution to the fight in Iraq and Syria.

Fairfax Media understands Mr Andrews has not alerted the minister's office of his plans to speak about his former portfolio area.

Established in the 1970s, the Foundation was a key policymaker for Republican president Ronald Reagan and was a loud supporter of the original Iraq war. In recent years it has campaigned aggressively to defund Obamacare.

The Foundation's current president is former Republican senator Jim DeMint, a leading figure in the Tea Party movement and a pro-lifer who opposes same-sex marriage.

According to the Foundation's invite, Mr Andrews will cover Australia's key defence challenges, including in the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.

"Australia is in a unique position, straddling the line between Asia and the West. It faces global security and defense challenges from the perspective of an Alliance partner with the United States. It, also, focuses on the challenges that confront both nations, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region – especially the China Seas – and the Middle East," the Foundation said in promoting Mr Andrews' presentation.

The Foundation lists its mission as "to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense."

Mr Andrews' office has been asked whether he sought Ms Payne's approval and whether his trip is being paid for by the Foundation.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has defended the right of Mr Abbott and other MPs to speak at such events, saying he won't be censoring the former prime minister.

"There are people in the Parliament, there are colleagues, there are, you know, fellow members of the Coalition, who have different views, and they are...entitled to express them, and I respect their right to do so, just as they would respect my right to disagree with them," he told Channel Ten's The Project on Tuesday night.

The Alliance Defending Freedom dinner will be held in New York later this week, but the organisation has not publicly announced the date and location.

"I don't know if it is intentionally secretive," ADF media relations director Bob Trent, discussing the event, told AAP on Tuesday. "For us, it was never intended to be a public event."

Mr Abbott arrived in Los Angeles on a Qantas flight on Wednesday morning.

With AAP

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