Prime Minister Scott Morrison has hit back at Opposition Leader Bill Shorten in an argument over whether gay people will go to hell, after both leaders fielded questions about Christian faith and gay rights.
Mr Morrison accused Mr Shorten of a "cheap shot" over the question on Tuesday and made it clear he did not believe that gay people would go to hell, one day after giving a less direct answer to the question.
"No, I do not believe that," Mr Morrison said in a statement.
The Prime Minister issued the statement one day after being asked about his personal beliefs while campaigning in Perth on Monday, giving a response that led Mr Shorten to warn against the "madness of division and toxicity" in the election debate on social questions.
The matter of personal belief arose on Monday when a journalist put the following question to Mr Morrison: "What's your belief, do gay people go to hell?"
Mr Morrison replied: "I support the law of the country and I always don't mix my religion with politics and my faith with politics."
The Prime Minister went on to say that his faith had informed how he lived his life and how he sought to care for and support others, and he cited his mother as an example of someone who translated her faith into love and care for others.
"That's the faith that I've been taught," he said.
"You know, none of us are perfect, none of us are saints in that respect. We try and do what is right and we try and do what is best and that's what always sought to guide me in terms of my own personal faith.
"My faith is not about politics. It's about just, who I am, just like it is for everyone who holds such a deep faith."
Mr Shorten made an unprompted response to those remarks on Tuesday when campaigning in Tasmania.
"I cannot believe in this election that there is a discussion even under way that gay people will go to hell," Mr Shorten said.
"I cannot believe that the Prime Minister has not immediately said that gay people will not go to hell.
When Mr Shorten was asked if he believed gay people would go to hell, he said: "No, I don't believe gay people, because they're gay, will go to hell. I don't need a law to tell me that. I don't believe it."
The Opposition Leader then criticised Mr Morrison for not being able to give a direct answer to the same question the previous day.
"I think if you want to be prime minister of Australia you are going to be prime minister for all people. And I just don't believe it. The nation's got to stop eating itself in this sort of madness of division and toxicity."
"This country needs to really lift itself and the political debate and coverage needs to lift itself in the next four days."
Questions about personal belief and family upbringing have arisen on both sides of the election campaign, with Mr Shorten speaking about his mother and his Catholic family while Mr Morrison attended a church service where he was photographed worshipping.
The Coalition campaign has been troubled by anti-gay comments from several candidates. The candidate for Wills, Peter Killin, suggested that gay people should be stopped from gaining elected office; the candidate for Greenway, Allan Green, criticised the "obscene homosexual Mardi Gras" in an old social media post; the candidate for Fraser, Peter Bain, has suggested a ban on gay couples adopting children.
When Mr Morrison was asked on Tuesday about Mr Bain's comments, he said the issue would be dealt with by the party organisation. Asked how it would deal with it, he repeated the answer and said he wanted to focus on the election debate over the economy.
Mr Morrison was one of the Liberal MPs who left the House of Representatives chamber when same-sex marriage was legislated in December 2017. He was joined by Tony Abbott, Kevin Andrews, Andrew Hastie, Michael Sukkar, Stuart Robert and Bert van Manen.
Asked on Monday if his position had changed, Mr Morrison said: "It's law and I'm glad that the change has now been made and people can get on with their lives, that's what I'm happy about."
While Mr Morrison is warning of the impact of Labor tax increases on property prices and rents, and Mr Shorten is calling for a pay rise for up to 2.3 million workers, the campaign has coincided with a debate over football player Israel Folau and his claim that gay people would go to hell.
- SMH/The Age